Science

The 5 Biggest, Ancient Turtles That Ever Lived Were Among the Dinosaurs



Once we speak about survival of the fittest, the primary picture that usually involves thoughts is that of big, vicious predators able to killing their option to dominance — whether or not that is Tyrannosaurus rex or the large ichthyosaurs that after dominated the ocean.

Whereas these titans went extinct eons in the past, a number of the big reptiles that lived alongside them — particularly, turtles — targeted extra on defensive methods, serving to them survive in opposition to such fearsome predators. For instance, paleontologists discovered a sea turtle fossil in Colombia relationship again no less than 120 million years in the past to the Cretaceous; in the meantime Odontochelys semitestacea, a fossil found in China, is a near-turtle relative dating back 220 million years ago.

However which turtles had been the most important to ever stroll or swim the Earth, massive sufficient to withstand the assaults of fierce Cretaceous predators? Listed here are just a few that put our modern-day leatherbacks and Galapagos tortoises to disgrace.

1. Archelon ischyros: The Largest Identified Turtle

This fossil of an enormous sea tortoise resides within the Pure Historical past Museum Vienna; the species it got here from (Archelon ischyros) is the most important of all identified turtles. (Credit score: frantic00/Shutterstock)

The biggest turtles ever found date again to the late Cretaceous, about 74 million years in the past. The species Archelon ischyros was a sea turtle that will have stretched past 15 ft lengthy — greater than twice so long as leatherbacks.

These turtles had been much like sea turtles at this time in look, however their sheer measurement places them in one other league altogether. They in all probability ate jellies and crustaceans like many sea turtles at this time. An almost full 16-foot specimen was found within the 1970s in North Dakota and is now housed on the Natural History Museum of Vienna.


Learn Extra: Everything to Know About the Secret World of Sea Turtles


2. Protostega gigas: The two,000-Pound Behemoth

An etching from the 19th century exhibiting the large sea turtle Protostega gigas. (powerofforever/Shutterstock)

Whereas not fairly as huge as Archelon, Protostega gigas was nonetheless an enormous of the late Cretaceous. These turtles swam within the inland sea that crossed North America from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

A few of these exceeded 12 feet and weighed more than 2,000 pounds, primarily based on fossil specimens discovered by scientists. Protostega gigas in all probability had the same weight loss plan to Archelon, and a few fossils have been discovered with shark teeth embedded inside, revealing that their arduous shells weren’t at all times a deterrent for marine predators.


Learn Extra: How Old Is the Oldest Sea Turtle?


3. Leviathanochelys aenigmatica: Europe’s Largest Identified Turtle

An illustrated depiction of Leviathanochelys aenigmatica. (Credit score: ICRA_Arts)

This historic creature was first found within the southern Pyrenees in Spain. When described in 2022, massive turtles had been present in fossils deposits in North America, however this was the biggest European specimen.

“Based mostly on the pelvis measurement, it’s seemingly that Leviathanochelys [aenigmatica] was as massive as Archelon, thus changing into one of many largest marine turtles discovered to ever exist,” wrote the authors of the research. They hypothesized that the ocean turtle seemingly spent a lot of its time within the open sea. Not a lot else is understood about this creature — except for the pelvis, the researchers solely recovered a part of the again of the shell.


Learn Extra: Why Were Prehistoric Marine Reptiles So Huge?


4. Ocepechelon bouyai: The Turtle That Used Its Snout To Suck Up Meals

An illustrated reconstruction of Ocepechelon bouyai. (Credit score: C. Letenneur/MNHN/CC-BY)

The species Ocepechelon bouyai was present in Moroccan deposits relationship again to the late Cretaceous. This creature had an elongated head — greater than two ft lengthy — and certain fed by means of suction. “The feeding equipment of Ocepechelon, a bony pipette-like snout, is exclusive amongst tetrapods,” the authors of a 2013 study wrote.

Paleontologists have solely discovered the cranium of this species, however primarily based on comparisons with Archelon and Protostega skulls, the animal might need been greater than 7.5 ft lengthy from snout to tail, the authors of that research wrote. This unusual type of feeding for an enormous turtle illustrates the massively numerous varieties that chelonians took close to the tip of the Cretaceous — earlier than the Chicxulub asteroid influence put an finish to lots of them.


Learn Extra: 5 of the Most Interesting Prehistoric Marine Reptiles


5. Stupendemys geographicus: The Residing Tank

An artist’s illustration of Stupendemys geographicus. (Credit score: JA Chirinos)

Identical to at this time, many of the largest turtles of the previous caught to the ocean. Not so with Stupendemys geographicus — an enormous tank of a freshwater turtle that weighed more than 2,500 pounds and prowled lakes and rivers through the Miocene. The truth is, it weighed about twice as a lot as leatherback sea turtles, and the males could have had horns on the entrance of their shells.

This reptile, which lived in Colombia and Venezuela, had a shell about 7.9 ft lengthy. Chew marks present that enormous caimans might need tried their luck on this armored big. Their nearest dwelling family members are the aquatic (and comparably small) Amazon river turtles.


Learn Extra: Why Are Sea Turtles Endangered and How Can We Save Them?


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