Many of us had turtles at home in a terrarium, or perhaps they sat dazed in your fourth-grade class, eating lettuce. Those turtles, typically small, like the size of your hand, or perhaps a little bigger like a small box, had nothing on the stupendemys geographicus, which means “stupendous turtle.” This prehistoric beast lived between 13 million and 7 million years ago in fresh water, was up to 13 feet long, and weighed just under 3,000 pounds.
In other words, it was the size of a small car… and built to fight.
The turtle is one of the largest that ever lived, and had front-facing horns on both sides of the shell, possibly for fighting over mates or territory.
Stupendemys is the second-largest known turtle, behind seagoing Archelon, which lived roughly 70 million years ago at the end of the age of dinosaurs and reached about 15 feet (4.6 meters) in length.
Edwin Cadena, of the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, led the efforts that unearthed new fossils of the turtle in Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert and Venezuela’s Urumaco region. The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.
“Stupendemys geographicus was huge and heavy. The largest individuals of this species were about the size and length of a sedan automobile if we take into account the head, neck, shell and limbs. Its diet was diverse including small animals – fishes, caimans, snakes – as well as mollusks and vegetation, particularly fruits and seeds. Putting together all the anatomical features of this species indicates that its lifestyle was mostly in the bottom of large freshwater bodies including lakes and large rivers.”
With its size and structure, chances are stupendous turtle went, and did, wherever and whatever it wanted.