Palaeontology: Oversized turtle discovered - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: Oversized freshwater turtle discovered in Amazonia

The aquatic landscapes of the Amazon are home to some of the largest representatives of their relatives in existence today, namely the anaconda and the South American river turtle(Podocnemis expansa). Amazonia is still home to giant reptiles. A giant that became extinct several thousand years ago, as fossilised remains show. However, new findings by researchers from the University of Tübingen led by Gabriel Ferreira from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment suggest that the region was home to other giants several millennia ago.

Colonisation of Amazonia 12000 years ago

A newly described species, Peltocephalus maturin, lived until the late Pleistocene and, with an estimated carapace length of up to 180 centimetres, is one of the largest known freshwater turtles. This means that it surpasses the Asian narrow-headed soft-shelled turtle(Chitra chitra), which is still alive today, with a carapace length of 140 centimetres, and the South American river turtle with a length of 110 centimetres. Even many other extinct freshwater species were rarely longer than 150 centimetres. Similarly large or even larger specimens are known from the Miocene, 23 to 5 million years ago: Carbonemys cofrinii was found in a northern Colombian coal mine. It reached similar dimensions to the Brazilian representative from the Pleistocene.

The causes of the extinction of these giants are unknown to researchers. However, today’s freshwater turtles of the Amazon are hunted and their eggs are collected, which jeopardises some species. Since humans colonised the Amazon more than 12,000 years ago, they could have used the turtles and their eggs as a lucrative source of protein and possibly wiped them out – a fate that befell many other representatives of the South American megafauna at the same time. However, the specimen of Peltocephalus maturin that was found lived between 9000 and 40,000 years ago. Gold diggers discovered the large lower jaw of this animal in a quarry in Porto Velho, Brazil. Based on certain features of this bone, Ferreira and his colleagues suspect that the turtle ate an omnivorous diet and is closely related to the modern-day fat-headed Amazonian turtle(Peltocephalus dumerilianus), which, however, remains significantly smaller.

Sladjan Lazic

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