With a body length of nearly 4 meters, the largest new fossil of sea turtle in history has appeared

Artistic restoration of Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, one of the largest sea turtles ever created, image courtesy of ICRA Arts

A new species of ancient turtle discovered in Spain may be one of the largest marine turtles ever created. With an estimated length of 3.74 meters, it is the largest marine turtle ever found in Europe. The study was published Nov. 18 in Scientific Reports.

The largest known marine turtles, such as the extinct Archelon, can grow up to 4.6 meters long and weigh up to 3.2 tons, and lived in the oceans around the North American continent by the end of the Cretaceous. In contrast, no known European marine turtle (extinct or extant) has shells longer than 1.5 meters.

Angel H. Lujan, Albert Selles, and colleagues from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Institute of Paleontology of Catalonia, Spain, describe a new marine turtle species, named Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, found in the Cal Torrades region of northeastern Spain and close in size to the genus Paleomorphos. The remains, excavated between 2016 and 2021, consist of a broken but almost complete pelvis and a partial upper cap (shell) dating back to the Campanian Age (circa 8310-72.1 million years ago).

This specimen has a distinctive bony protrusion that protrudes anteriorly from the front of the pelvis. This characteristic that differs from other marine turtles suggests that Leviathanochelys represent a new taxon of ancient marine turtles. The authors believe that this protrusion may be related to the respiratory system.

Excavation site Image courtesy of Angel Galobart

Excavation site of Leviathanochelys aenigmatica fossil remains Image: Angel Galobart

Based on pelvic size, the researchers calculated that Leviathanochelys could be 3.74 meters long. They estimated that the maximum width of the pelvis of Leviathanochelys was 88.9 cm, which was larger than the maximum estimate of the pelvis (81.0 cm wide) of the most famous specimens of the genus Giant Tortoise. The length of the pelvis from front to back is estimated at 39.5 cm, slightly smaller than that of the genus Giant Tortoise (46.0 cm long). This makes Leviathanochelys the largest marine turtle found in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The findings suggest that the giant size of marine turtles developed independently in different clades in North America and Europe, the authors say. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

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