Scientists find new fossils of car-sized prehistoric turtle in South America

One of the largest turtles that ever lived prowled the lakes and rivers of northern South America from about 13 million years ago to 7 million years ago and this car-sized freshwater beast was built for battle.

 

New fossils of Stupendemys Turtle

Scientists said on Wednesday they have unearthed new fossils of the turtle, called Stupendemys geographicus, in Colombia's Tatacoa Desert and Venezuela's Urumaco region that for the first time provide a comprehensive understanding of the big reptile, which got up to 13 feet (4 meters) long and 1.25 tons in weight.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Built for battle

Stupendemys males, unlike the females, boasted sturdy front-facing horns on both sides of the carapace or shell very close to the neck. Deep scars detected in the fossils indicated that these horns may have been used like a lance for fighting with other Stupendemys males over mates or territory.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Fighting still prevails

Fighting occurs among certain turtles alive today, particularly between male tortoises, according to palaeontologist Edwin Cadena of the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, who led the research published in the journal Science Advances.

(Photograph:AFP)

Second largest turtle known to mankind

Stupendemys is the second-largest known turtle, behind seagoing Archelon, which lived roughly 70 million years ago at the end of the age of dinosaurs and reached about 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length.

The first Stupendemys fossils were found in the 1970s but many mysteries remained about the animal. The new fossils included the largest known turtle shell 9.4 feet (2.86 meters) long, even larger than Archelon's shell - and the first lower jaw remains, which gave clues about its diet.

(Photograph:Reuters)

This "automobile" feeds on small animals

"The largest individuals of this species were about the size and length of a sedan automobile if we take into account the head, neck, shell and limbs," Cadena said.

"Its diet was diverse including small animals fishes, caimans, snakes as well as molluscs and vegetation, particularly fruits and seeds. Putting together all the anatomical features of this species indicates that its lifestyle was mostly in the bottom of large freshwater bodies including lakes and large rivers," Cadena added.

(Photograph:AFP)