Fossils of what is believed to be the largest turtle ever were recovered in South America.
The Stupendemys geographicus roamed the then freshwater swamps of the region between 5 and 10 million years ago.
Found in Venezuela and Colombia, the gigantic shell is nearly three meters long and weighs a stunning 544 kilograms.
The closest relative to this gargantuan reptile is the Amazon river turtle, which is 100 times smaller than it’s ancient ancestor.
The researchers have used the discovery of this shell and the turtle’s lower jaw fossils to uncover insights into how these large animals looked and lived.
By studying the shells and lower jaw fossils, researchers discovered the males had horned shells to protect their skulls. Despite their size, giant bite marks in the shells show that predators, including massive alligator-like caimans, weren’t deterred by the animal’s huge shield and would attempt to take them down.
The turtles are believed to have eaten a diverse range of fish, crocodiles, snakes and mollusks, and were able to crush open seeds with their massive lower jawbones.
“Being able to reconstruct the life-style and the biology aspects of this giant extinct turtle has been a very exciting project,” said Colombian palaeontologist Edwin Cadena. “And knowing the evolutionary history of extant species is a key part of to formulate integral plans and educate for their conservation.”
Image: E.A Cadena et.al