"Stupendemys Geographicus Skeleton" by Ryan Somma / CC BY-SA 2.0

Turtles the size of a car once roamed the Earth. Scientists just found their fossils.

Feb 14, 2020

By Reis Thebault

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.

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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