Scientists Discover 10-Foot Shell Of Second-Largest Turtle To Ever Exist

by : Cameron Frew on : 13 Feb 2020 11:54
Scientists Discover 10-Foot Shell Of Second-Largest Turtle To Ever ExistEdwin Cadena/Science Natures

First, the scientists who discovered this massive turtle shell were like, whoa! And then we were like, whoa! And then you were like, whoa. 

As is the nature of evolution, wildlife in and out of the water has radically changed over the past few million years. Once, dinosaurs roamed the earth, megalodons swam the oceans – the land we know was a dangerous, diverse playground for prehistoric creatures.


Around five to 10 million years ago, turtles still soared through the seas – however, they were sometimes quite a bit bigger than the ones we know today.

Big TurtleJaime Chrinos/Science Natures

Researchers have uncovered shells belonging to Stupendemys geographicus in Venezuela and Colombia, the second-largest turtle that ever existed. Reaching nearly 10ft in length and weighing more than one tonne, it’s an absolute whopper – although it pales in comparison to the seagoing Archelon, which lived roughly 70 million years ago and reached about 15ft in length.

Stupendemys geographicus was known for roaming freshwater swamps across South America. While they were titanic in size, other predators weren’t scared – as witnessed by the sizeable bite marks in the shell, likely the result of a caiman attack.


Paleontologist Roger Wood was the first to officially describe the species back in 1976, naming it Stupendemys for largeness and geographicus in recognition of the National Geographic Society, which has dedicated much time and resources to fossil turtle research.

Big Turtle 2Jorge Carrillo/Science Natures

While the discovery showcases the species’ ginormous shell, it also reveals the horned features close to the turtle’s neck, which would be used to help protect males during fights, as females didn’t have them. A full study detailing the find was published on Wednesday, February 12, in Science Advances.

As well as the horned shell, researchers also uncovered the the first lower jaw belonging to the species, with Edwin Cadena, study author, geologist and vertebrate paleontologist at Del Rosario University in Colombia, describing it as ‘something that we have been searching and waiting to find for decades’.

Big Turtle 3Rodolfo Sanchez/Science Natures

Cadena explained that this helps provide a clearer idea of what the turtles ate, with their diet including fish, crocodiles, snakes and mollusks (they were also able to crush open seeds with their massive lower jaw bones).

Commenting further on the value of the discovery, Cadena told CNN

It shows us that extremely large shells were not only exclusive of marine turtles but also occurred in freshwater turtles. One of the new shells that we described in this publication represents the largest turtle shell so far known in their entire evolution.

These findings also help us to understand better the evolution of northern South American turtles and how they interacted with other giant animals that lived in this region approximately 13 million years ago.


The search continues for more turtle fossils across the continent: ‘Knowing the evolutionary history of extant species is a key part of to formulate integral plans and educate for their conservation,’ Cadena added.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Animals, fossils, history, Research, Science, Turtles


CNN and 1 other
  1. CNN

    Biggest turtle that ever lived had 10 foot shell with horns

  2. Science Advances

    The anatomy, paleobiology, and evolutionary relationships of the largest extinct side-necked turtle