Paleontologists have identified the fossil remains of a 60-million-year-old South American giant turtle discovered in Colombian coal mine in 2005, according to a study published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
North Carolina State University researchers have found that the extinct turtle discovered by Edwin Cadena, a NC State doctoral student, was Carbonemys cofrinii, which means "coal turtle."
The turtle was said to be about the size of a smart car, with a shell big enough to hold a swimming pool for children.
It belongs to a part of the side-necked turtle which is known as pelomedusoides. While the turtle's skull measures 24 centimeters, the shell is believed to measure 172 centimeters, or about 5 feet 7 inches, long.
"We had recovered smaller turtle specimens from the site. But after spending about four days working on uncovering the shell, I realized that this particular turtle was the biggest anyone had found in this area for this time period - and it gave us the first evidence of giantism in freshwater turtles," Cadena said.
The giant turtle is believed to have been so big due to the changes in the ecosystem, larger habitat area, more food supply and climate changes. These turtles allegedly existed alongside many varieties of other giant reptiles including Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake ever discovered in this part of South America.
The fossil remains showed that the turtle had massive jaws and could have eaten anything, including smaller turtles and even crocodiles. Scientists have so far discovered only one species of the turtle in this area, which shows that these turtle would have occupied larger territory to get more food for survival.
"It's like having one big snapping turtle living in the middle of a lake," Dr. Dan Ksepka, NC State paleontologist and research associate at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, co-author of the paper said.
"That turtle survives because it has eaten all of the major competitors for resources. We found many bite-marked shells at this site that show crocodilians preyed on side-necked turtles. None would have bothered an adult Carbonemys, though - in fact smaller crocs would have been easy prey for this behemoth," he added.