May 17th, 2012 by James Ayre
A prehistoric turtle big enough to eat crocodiles has been discovered in Columbia. The turtle lived about 60 million years ago, and was about the size of a small car.
The fossils were discovered in a coal mine in northern Colombia, in 2005. And the turtle has, thus, been named Carbonemys cofrinii, ‘coal turtle’. The turtle had a skull about the size of a football, and a shell that’s about five and a half feet long.
“We had recovered smaller turtle specimens from the site. But after spending about four days working on uncovering the shell, I realized that this particular turtle was the biggest anyone had found in this area for this time period — and it gave us the first evidence of giantism in freshwater turtles,” Cadena says.
Smaller relatives of theirs had existed alongside the dinosaurs, but after the dinosaurs were gone, this giant version appeared in the fossil record. Similar increases in scale happened in other animals during this period, such as Titanoboa cerrejobensis, the largest snake ever discovered.
Scientists think that this increase in size was due to fewer predators, a larger habitat, plentiful food, and changes in the climate.
The powerful jaws that the turtles possessed would have allowed them to eat almost anything, from mollusks to crocodiles.
Only one specimen has been found so far. According to the researchers, that was likely because they would have needed a large territory in order to get all the food they needed.
“It’s like having one big snapping turtle living in the middle of a lake,” says Ksepka, co-author of the paper describing the find. “That turtle survives because it has eaten all of the major competitors for resources. We found many bite-marked shells at this site that show crocodilians preyed on side-necked turtles. None would have bothered an adult Carbonemys, though — in fact smaller crocs would have been easy prey for this behemoth.”
The findings were just published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
Source: NC State University
Image Credits: Liz Bradford, USGS
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