Puentemys mushaisaensis

Giant fossil turtle was round as a tire

Picture of Puentemys mushaisaensis.
Paleontologists unearth the carapace of the giant turtle, Puentemys, which lived 60 million years ago in a hot tropical forest environment. Image: Edwin Cadena

Picture of the newly discovered fossil, turtle Puentemys.
The newly discovered fossil turtle, Puentemys, had a circular shell. Image: Liz Bradford


Reference: Cadena, E.A., Bloch, J.I., and Jaramillo, C.A. 2012. New Bothremydid turtle (Testudines, Pleurodira) from the Paleocene of Northeastern Colombia. Journal of Paleontology, 86(4):689-699.

Dec. 11, 2012 — Paleontologist Carlos Jaramillo's group at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and colleagues at North Carolina State University and the Florida Museum of Natural History have discovered a previously unknown giant turtle that lived 60 million years ago in what is now northwestern South America. The team's findings were published in the Journal of Paleontology (see full citation below).

The new turtle is named Puentemys mushaisaensis because it was found in the La Puente pit in Cerrejón Coal Mine, a place made famous for the discoveries, not only of the extinct Titanoboa, the world's biggest snake, but also of Carbonemys, a freshwater turtle as big as a smart car.

Cerrejon's fossil reptiles all seem to be extremely large. With its total length of 5 feet, Puentemys adds to growing evidence that following the extinction of the dinosaurs, tropical reptiles were much bigger than they are now. Fossils from Cerrejon offer an excellent opportunity to understand the origins of tropical biodiversity in the last 60 million years of Earth's history.

Map of Colombia showing location of La Guajira
Location of site
Image: Shadowxfox.
picture of Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Carlos Jaramillo
Image: Smithsonian Tropical Research Inst.

The most peculiar feature of this new turtle is its extremely circular shell, about the size and shape of a big car tire. Edwin Cadena, post-doctoral fellow at North Carolina State University and lead author of the paper, said that the turtle's round shape could have discouraged predators, including Titanoboa, and aided in regulating its body temperature.

The width of the turtle's shell probably exceeded the maximum expansion of the Titanoboa's mouth. The authors of the study believe its circular, low-domed shape would have increased the area of the body exposed to the sun, helping the cold-blooded turtle warm to a temperature at which it could be more active.

More news >>


This story was based on information obtained from the AAAS.


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