Fossils of an extinct freshwater turtle that weighed over a ton and had a 3-meter-long shell have been found by paleobiologists in South America.
The team from the University of Zurich (UZH) made the discovery alongside researchers from Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.
It was also found that the shell of the male turtle, from the species named Stupendemys geographicus, had horns – a rare feature in turtles.
Marcelo Sánchez, lead researcher and director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum at UZH, said this may be “one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed”.
With an estimated body mass of 1,145 kg, it’s almost 100 times heavier than the Amazon river turtle, it’s closest living relative.
Image: Edwin Cadena
The Stupendemys geographicus lived around five to ten million years ago, in a humid, swampy swath of the continent that was home to crocodiles, alligators, and giant rodents. Today, this area is sparse desert land in Venezuela.
Reconstruction of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus: male (front) and female individual (left) swimming in freshwater. (Image: Jaime Chirinos)
According to Sánchez, this is the first reported case of sexual dimorphism in the form of horned shells for any side-necked turtles. He said,
“The two shell types indicate that two sexes of Stupendemys existed – males with horned shells, and females with hornless shells”
Despite it’s massive size, the turtle would have had many natural enemies. In many areas where Stupendemys fossils have been discovered, fossils of Purussaurus, the largest caimans, have also been found. They are believed to have been a predator of the turtle due to their dietary preferences, as well as the bite marks and punctured bones found in fossil carapaces of Stupendemys.
Read more via UZH