Washington: Paleontologists have discovered a gigantic new species of fossil turtle that lived 60 million years ago in what is now northwestern South America.
Named Puentemys mushaisaensis because it was found in La Puente pit in Cerrejon Coal Mine, a place made famous by the discovery of the extinct Titanoboa, the world's biggest snake and Carbonemys, a freshwater turtle as big as a smart car.
Cerrejon's fossil reptiles all seem to be extremely large. Some five feet long, Puentemys adds to growing evidence that following the extinction of the dinosaurs, tropical reptiles were much bigger than they are now, the Journal of Paleontology reports.
The discovery was made by 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, according to a Smithsonian statement.
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, who led the study, 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. 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 was more active.
First Published: Thursday, July 12, 2012, 18:36