"Stupendous turtle" fossil discovered in Colombia

Colombian and Venezuelan paleontologists work together during the excavation of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus in northern Venezuela in an undated

Colombian and Venezuelan paleontologists work together during the excavation of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus in northern Venezuela in an undated

He added: "The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed - males with horned shells, and females with hornless shells".

South America's tropical region is home to one of the world's most biodiverse hotspots.

Measurements of fossilised remains show the creature could grow up to three metres in length, making it one of the largest - if not the largest - turtles that ever existed.

The huge extinct freshwater turtle Stupendemys geographicus, which lived in lakes and rivers in northern South America during the Miocene Epoch, is seen in an illustration released February 12, 2020.

The beast named Stupendemys geographicus roamed modern-day Colombia ten million years ago and may have weaponised its shell in fights with enemies.

Paleontologists excavating one of the specimens of Stupendemys geographicus at the top of a cliff in northern Venezuela.

The reptile's estimated body mass of 1,145 kg makes it nearly 100 times heavier than its closest living relative, the Amazon river turtle, the university said in a statement on Wednesday.

Lead author Professor Edwin Cadena said "The now-extinct animal is the largest land turtle of all time". This is still the case today with species of the "neck-turning turtle" genus, some of which still live in the inland waters of South America, Australia, New Guinea, Madagascar and Africa.

The turtle fossils were recovered from dig sites in Venezuela and Colombia.

For one, Stupendemys was huge.

In some individuals, the complete carapace showed a peculiar and unexpected feature: horns.

Prof Sanchez explained: "Based on studies of the turtle anatomy, we now know that some living turtles from the Amazon region are the closest living relatives". Upon closer inspection, the researchers determined that the horns on the shell only appeared in males. This is the first time that sexual dimorphism in the form of horned shells has been reported in any side-necked turtle (any species of turtle belonging to the families Chelidae, Pelomedusidae, and Podocnemididae).

Despite its enormous size, Stupendemys wasn't safe in the Venezuelan swamps. It shared the environment with giant crocodilians including the 36-foot-long (11-meter-long) caiman Purussaurus and the 33-foot-long (10-meter-long) gavial relative Gryposuchus. Since the giant tortoises swallow very large fruits and their seeds could be excreted from some distance away, Stupendemys geographicus probably had an important distribution role in the ecosystem.

The discovery of the jaws and other skeleton parts of Stupendemys allowed the researchers to thoroughly revise the evolutionary relationships of this species within the turtle tree of life.

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