Megalodon: The history of the largest shark to exist
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Ancient Giant turtles which swam in the world’s oceans around 80 million years ago were reportedly the same size as the huge great white sharks that traverse the Earth’s waters today, experts have speculated after they found the remains of one the biggest creatures ever to have existed on our planet. Researchers dug up the bones of the ancient creature in the Southern Pyrenees mountains in northeastern Spain. It came after a hiker walking in the mountains near the village of Coll de Nargó stumbled across bone fragments of another creature, which opened the door to more excavations at the same site.
While members of the local museum, as well as the Catalonian Department of Culture, collected the bones from the site, it was not until they were studied several years later that the staggering size of the ancient turtle became evident.
Dr Angel Lujan, of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and corresponding author of a study published in the journal Scientific Reports: “These findings indicate that gigantism in marine turtles developed independently in different lineages in both North America and Europe.” Spain. They found a fragmented but near-complete pelvis and parts of the upper shell, or carapace.
“Judging by the remains, the experts suspect the huge creature measured about twelve feet long and weighed about two tons. The remains of the newly found species date to the Campanian Age, between 83.6 to 72.1 million years ago.
“The ancient creature has been given the name Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, and it is the biggest marine turtle ever to be discovered in Europe. However there is one type of marine turtle even bigger than this one – the Archelon, which lived around the ancient North American continent. The large body size could have evolved as a response to the unique habitat conditions of the European Cretaceous archipelago seas.”
The giant turtle also has a distinctive bone that sticks forwards from the front of the pelvis. This is different from other marine turtles – suggesting that Leviathanochelys could be a completely new group of ancient marine turtles that have never been discovered before.
Dr Lujan said: “This protrusion may have related to the respiratory system. It supports the hypothesis Leviathanochelys had an open marine pelagic lifestyle.”
The researchers suspect that the maximum width of the creature’s pelvis was nearly three feet (89cm) – slightly larger than Archelon’s (the bigger ancient turtle). The length was also slightly smaller at 1ft 4in (39.5cm). Dr Lujan said: “This makes Leviathanochelys the largest marine turtle ever discovered in Europe, and one of the largest found worldwide.”
This also makes the creatures close to the size of male Great White sharks, which average 11 to 13 feet. However, female Great Whites are typically bigger – reaching 15 feet on average. Until now, no other known European marine turtle, extinct or living, has ever been found to exceed five feet in shell-length.
Dr Lujan said: “To date, it was thought that the largest marine turtles to ever sail the oceans, such as Archelon, were restricted to North America during the latest Cretaceous.
“The discovery of the new gigantic and bizarre Leviathanochelys from the Middle Campanian marine deposits of the Southern Pyrenees, which rivals in size to Archelon, sheds a light on the diversity of marine turtles and on how the phenomenon of gigantism in these groups was also occurring in Europe.
“Despite the scarcity and fragmentary nature of the individual, the new evidence not only increases the taxonomic diversity of the Late Cretaceous marine turtle biota in Europe, but also opens a new line of exploration and raises new questions, in order to solve the evolutionary mechanisms and ecological pressures that could have favoured the independent evolution of colossal marine turtles in multiple lineages, especially during the Late Cretaceous.”
He added: “These findings indicate that gigantism in marine turtles developed independently in different lineages in both North America and Europe.”
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Dr Sandra Chapman, the Museum’s former Curator of Fossil Reptiles and Birds who has studied fossil turtles, said: “I think this specimen is a really good find which has been well researched.
“It adds another piece to the puzzle of trends in the evolution of turtles. It supports the idea that extreme sizes are more common prior to an extinction and smaller, but still substantial, sizes predominate afterwards.”
The largest living turtle species is the leatherback sea turtle, which generally swim around but can travel as far north as Norway. The animals normally reach around two metres in length, but one specimen held in the National Museum Cardiff is almost three metres long.
Dr Chapman said: “Compared to the turtles alive before the end of the Cretaceous, living turtles are not as large as their ancient relatives. We’ve not seen their enormous sizes achieved again.”
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