WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of the largest turtles that has ever lived roamed the lakes and rivers of northern South America from about 13 million years ago to 7 million years ago – and this car-sized freshwater animal was built for battle.
Scientists said on Wednesday that they had dug up new fossils of the turtle, called Stupendemys geographicus, in the Tatacoa desert, Colombia, and in the Urumaco region of Venezuela, which for the first time provide a comprehensive understanding of the large 4-meter reptile. of lenght. and 1.25 tonnes in weight.
Unlike females, Stupendemys males sported strong forward-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 as a spear to fight other Stupendemys males over companions or territory.
The fight is taking place among certain live turtles today, especially among male turtles, according to paleontologist Edwin Cadena of the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, who led the research published in the journal Science Advances.
Stupendemys is the second largest known tortoise, after the marine archelon, which lived about 70 million years ago at the end of the dinosaur era and reached about 4.6 meters in length.
The first fossils of Stupendemys were found in the 1970s, but many mysteries remained about the animal. The new fossils included the largest known tortoiseshell shell – 2.46 meters long, even larger than Archelon's shell – and the first lower jaw remains, which gave clues to his diet.
“Stupendemys geographicus was huge and heavy. The largest individuals of this species were the size and length of a sedan car, considering the head, neck, shell and limbs, ”said Cadena.
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“His diet was diverse, including small animals – fish, alligators, snakes – as well as mollusks and vegetation, mainly fruits and seeds. Bringing together all the anatomical characteristics of this species indicates that its lifestyle was mainly at the bottom of large bodies of fresh water, including lakes and large rivers, ”added Cadena.
The Stupendemys – which means “stupendous turtle” – inhabited a colossal system of wetlands that covered Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Peru before the formation of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.
Its large size may have been crucial in defending against formidable predators. He shared the environment with giant crocodilians, including the 11-meter-long Purussaurus alligator and the 10-meter-long gavial relative, Gryposuchus. One of the Stupendemys fossils was found with an embedded 5 cm crocodile tooth.
Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler
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