Paleontologists in Spain have unearthed fossil remains of a giant marine turtle that may have been one of the largest marine turtles to have ever lived. The turtle had an estimated body length of up to 3.74 meters (12.27 feet). That’s more than twice the size of the average human.
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Until now, the largest known marine turtles, such as the ancient extinct Archelon that had a staggering 4.6 meters (15.1 feet) length, were only found near the sea surrounding North America. And no known European turtle has exceeded 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in length.
But fossilized remains of a new marine turtle species have been uncovered in Spain and appear nearly as large as Archelon. Paleontologists have described the details of the new species, which they’ve named Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, in a paper published in Scientific Reports.
According to the paper, researchers excavated the fossils in fragments between 2016 and 2021 in Coll de Nargó, Northeastern Spain. But they also unearthed an almost complete pelvis and parts of the upper shell at the site. The enormous turtle likely cruised around Europe’s ancient oceans between 83.6 and 72.1 million years ago, the paper stated.
Based on pelvis size, researchers estimated that Leviathanochelys could have reached up to 3.74 meters (12.3 feet) in length. They also determined the turtle had a distinctive prominence of bone that protruded forward from the front of the pelvis. This feature, according to the paper, differs from other marine turtles, indicating that this species represents a new group of ancient marine turtles.
The discovery in the new paper hints at the possibility of finding more giant ancient turtles in Europe and North Africa. According to Àngel Hernández Luján, one of the study authors, there are many fragmentary remains of ancient turtles in these regions.
“We are optimistic, and believe that it is possible to find more giant turtle species in Europe,” he said in a press release. “Southern Europe and North Africa shared several faunas, both marine and terrestrial, during the Late Cretaceous, between 80 and 66 million years ago. Because of that, it would be not surprising to discover new gigantic marine turtles in these regions.”
The largest living turtle is the leatherback sea turtle, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service. It measures about 6 feet (1.82 m)
in length and weighs between 550 and 2,000 pounds. But still, the leatherback sea turtle is small compared to its ancient relatives.