Car-sized turtles prowled the lakes and rivers of Northern South America | Sunday Observer

Car-sized turtles prowled the lakes and rivers of Northern South America

Though it is now arid, the Urumaco region in Venezuela's Falcón State was once a mega wetland that was home to numerous colossal animal species. These included rodents the size of modern-day buffaloes and 10-foot (3-meter) tall carnivorous birds.

The latest to join the list of the area's massive creatures is a giant turtle that was 100 times larger than its closest living relative, the Amazon river turtle and about 1.5 times the size of the world's largest living turtle, the marine leather back.

Researchers first became aware of the Stupendemys (stupendous turtle) geographicus in 1976, after a Harvard paleontologist unearthed a few fossils. However, the small fragments found were not enough to ascertain what the freshwater turtle looked like, or how it behaved.

Now, a team led by the University of Zurich's Marcelo Sánchez has discovered pristinely-preserved turtle shells and jawbone fossils in the Urumaco region and Colombia's Tatacoa Desert, enabling scientists to gain insights into the giants, which roamed Northern South America between 8 and 13 million years ago. The male giant turtle is the largest known turtle to have existed. The leather back sea turtle, Floreana giant tortoise and Yangtze giant soft shell turtle are the only ones still alive.

The team's findings, published in the journal Science Advances on February 12, 2020, reveal that the massive animals sported a 9-foot-long shell and weighed more than 2,500 pounds (1133 kilograms), or about as much as an average car.