Scientists dug up car-sized turtle fossil

Illustration of the giant turtle with jaws open underwater

Illustration of the giant turtle with jaws open underwater

The turtle - Stupendemys geographicus - is thought to have actually strolled the area in between 13 as well as 7 million years back.

"It's one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed", said Marcelo Sánchez, lead study author and director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich.

Stupendemys males, in contrast to the females, boasted sturdy front-facing horns on either side of the carapace - or shell - very near the neck.

Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sanchez lies alongside a carapace of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus, from Urumaco, Venezuela.

"Many questions - about its diet, if there were differences between males and females, and even if we were dealing with one or more giant turtle species - were completely unknown".

Marcelo Sanchez, director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich (UZH) and head of the study, said: "The carapace of some Stupendemys individuals reached nearly three metres, making it one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed".

Since the scientists also discovered jaws and other skeleton parts of Stupendemys, they were able to thoroughly revise the evolutionary relationships of this species within the turtle tree of life. The discovery of a crocodile tooth and bite marks in the shell of various giant freshwater turtles suggest this conclusion.

Rodolfo Sánchez lying beside and dwarfed in size by a fossilised shell of the giant turtle
Venezuelan palaeontologist Rodolfo Sánchez and a male carapace of the giant turtle. Image Edwin Cadena

This finding helps us to better understand the evolution of turtles in northern South America and how they interacted with other giant animals that lived in this region about 13 million years ago, Cadena concluded.

Despite its enormous size, Stupendemys wasn't safe in the Venezuelan swamps.

The new fossil shells were found in Venezuela and Colombia. Among those prehistoric predators was the caiman Purussaurus, which measured 11 metres (36 feet) long, and the slightly smaller Gryposuchus, which was 10 metres (33 feet) long. There are only three larger reptile species today, all of them crocodiles like the six-meter-long and one-ton inguinal crocodile.

The initially Stupendemys fossils were uncovered in the 1970 s however lots of secrets have actually continued to be regarding the 4- metre lengthy pet.

The newly recovered jaw pieces are expected to shed some light on what the turtle ate, Cadena said.

"Its diet was diverse, including small animals - fishes, caimans, snakes - as well as molluscs and vegetation, particularly fruits and seeds".

Paleontologists don't know if these turtles were biters - but with their car-sized bodies, one probably wouldn't want to find out.

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