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US News Turtles the size of a car once roamed the earth. Scientists just found their fossils.

12:25  14 february  2020
12:25  14 february  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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Scientists just found their fossils . An illustration of the huge extinct freshwater turtle Stupendemys geographicus, that lived in lakes and rivers in northern The hulking reptile was about 100 times the size of its closest living relative, the Amazon river turtle , and twice the size of the largest living turtle

Scientists have unearthed new fossils of one of the largest turtles that ever lived: a car - sized reptile which prowled the lakes and rivers of what is now northern South America from about 13m years ago to 7m years ago. The fossils of the turtle – Stupendemys geographicus

a turtle swimming under water: An illustration of the huge extinct freshwater turtle Stupendemys geographicus, that lived in lakes and rivers in northern South America during the Miocene Epoch. (J.A. Chirinos/via REUTERS) © J.A. Chirinos/Via Reuters An illustration of the huge extinct freshwater turtle Stupendemys geographicus, that lived in lakes and rivers in northern South America during the Miocene Epoch. (J.A. Chirinos/via REUTERS)

In the swamps of northern South America some 10 million years ago, quotidian life-or-death battles unfolded at epic scale. Giant caimans, in the same family as alligators, stalked the wetlands of modern-day Venezuela and Colombia, slinking along at 30-feet, snout to tail. Among their most formidable prey: the Stupendemys geographicus, a colossal turtle about which little was known — until now.

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Scientists just found their fossils . The Washington Post - Reis Thebault. New research, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, reveals important findings about the Stupendemys, a now-extinct freshwater turtle , and details the discovery of one of its shells — the largest known turtle

Fossils of a turtle the size of a car have been unearthed in what is now northern South America. The turtle - Stupendemys geographicus - is believed to have roamed the region between 13 and 7 million years ago. The fossils were found in Colombia's Tatacoa Desert and Venezuela's Urumaco region.

New research, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, reveals important findings about the Stupendemys, a now-extinct freshwater turtle, and details the discovery of one of its shells — the largest known turtle shell found to date, at nearly nine-and-a-half-feet long. The animal would have resembled, in length and weight, a midsized car.

The hulking reptile was about 100 times the size of its closest living relative, the Amazon river turtle, and twice the size of the largest living turtle, the marine leatherback, the researchers estimated. The new findings provide the most thorough accounting yet of the Stupendemys, helping scientists answer crucial questions about what may have been the largest turtle to ever live.

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Scientists studying fossils of extinct giant turtles say they've discovered the largest land turtle of all time. What's more - their huge shells were apparently Some of these beasts may have been the size of a car and males also had unique horned shells which they think were used to take on other turtles .

0:54 Scientists unearth fossils of one of the largest turtles in history. The largest individuals of this species were about the size and length of a sedan automobile if we take into account the head The new fossils were found in the Tatacoa desert of Colombia and the Urumaco region of Venezuela.

“For almost four decades, we didn’t have new and excellently preserved fossils of this turtle,” Edwin Cadena, a paleontologist at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia and one of the study’s lead researchers, told The Washington Post. “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.”

a man standing on a rock wall: Paleontologist Rodolfo Sánchez and a male carapace of Stupendemys geographicus, from Venezuela, found in 8 million years old deposits. (Edwin Cadena) Paleontologist Rodolfo Sánchez and a male carapace of Stupendemys geographicus, from Venezuela, found in 8 million years old deposits. (Edwin Cadena)

But thanks to the recently unearthed fossils, Cadena and his co-authors have been able to fill in some of those blanks, which have lingered since the 1970s, when the animal was first described. It now appears likely that Stupendemys geographicus was the lone species of giant turtle living in the region at that time, he said, and there were differences between the sexes and their diet was diverse and omnivorous.

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Among their most surprising discoveries, Cadena said, was the presence of sturdy, front-facing horns on the shells of the males — “something completely new for such a giant turtle,” he said. The researchers hypothesize that the horns were used as “weapons in male-male combat behaviors.” Deep scrapes in the horn of one fossil indicated they may have been used by turtles tangling over territory, they said.

Cadena and his team found more marks, too, some that told of their fearsome, frantic fights with the Purussaurus, the giant caimans that roamed the northern Neotropics during the Miocene epoch, the same time and place as the Stupendemys. The scars from their skirmishes are still visible today.

a man that is standing in the dirt: Paleontologist Edwin Cadena is seen taking notes on one of the male specimens of Stupendemys geographicus during fieldwork in 2016. (Rodolfo Sanchez/via REUTERS) © Rodolfo Sanchez/Via Reuters Paleontologist Edwin Cadena is seen taking notes on one of the male specimens of Stupendemys geographicus during fieldwork in 2016. (Rodolfo Sanchez/via REUTERS)

Some of the Stupendemys fossils had bite marks and punctured bones, and one shell had a tooth embedded in it.

Earth’s landscape at the time of the Stupendemys bore little resemblance to today’s topography. The turtle’s habitat has turned to desert, but then, it was humid and swampy. The Andes weren’t yet fully formed and the Orinoco and Amazon rivers cut different paths.

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THE FOSSILS of giant turtles twice the size of a human and 100 times heavier than their closest relative have been discovered in South America. The turtles are likely to have roamed around South American swamps millions of years agoCredit: Edwin Cadena.

A sprawling wetland and lake system meant plenty of room for massive animals — especially the Stupendemys, which spent most of its days at the bottom of freshwater streams and small lakes, Cadena said. They likely lived across the whole northern part of South America.

But those ideal conditions were not to last. Over time, plate tectonics pushed the Andes higher, disrupting the water systems and drastically reducing the scope of their habitat, the researchers wrote.

At some point, that which had come to signify their success on earth, the conquering of their environment — their huge size — was no longer enough to keep them alive. In the early Pliocene, around 5 million years ago, they went extinct. 

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