In Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert, called the “graveyard” of prehistoric sea monsters, scientists have unearthed the world’s largest turtle with two sharp horns on its shell.
A multinational team has just published the study of the largest Stupendemys geographicus turtle of all time. The great shell of this 10 million-year-old monster is longer than 2.4 meters; total body length when alive up to more than 3 m. At that size, it is no less than medium-sized dinosaurs. This turtle can grow up to 13ft (4 meters) long and 1.25 tons in weight.
Stupendemys males boasted sturdy front-facing horns on both sides of its shell very close to the neck. Deep scars detected in the fossils indicated that these horns may have been used like a lance for fighting with other Stupendemys males over mates or territory. Females did not have the horns.
Stupendemys is the second-largest known turtle, behind seagoing Archelon, which lived roughly 70m years ago at the end of the age of dinosaurs and reached about 15ft (4.6 meters) in length.
The first Stupendemys fossils were found in the 1970s but many mysteries remained about the animal. The new fossils included the largest-known turtle shell – 9.4ft (2.86 meters) long, even larger than Archelon’s shell – and the first lower jaw remains, which gave clues about its diet.
The oldest Stypendemys geographicus that ever wandered the earth could be up to 70 million years old, when the dinosaurs still existed on Earth. However, after the asteroid disaster 66 million years ago, dinosaurs were destroyed and they still exist.
Its large size may have been crucial in defending against formidable predators. It shared the environment with giant crocodilians including the 36ft-long (11-meter-long) caiman Purussaurus and the 33ft-long (10-meter-long) gavial relative Gryposuchus. One of the Stupendemys fossils was found with a two-inch-long (5cm) crocodile tooth embedded in it.