Paleontologists have for the first time discovered the fossils of a unique species of turtles, that was big and lived among the dinosaurs. The species lived in the subtropical seas that washed the coasts of the archipelago that made up Europe 83 million years ago.

Leviathanochelys aenigmatica is estimated to be 3.7 meters long and its name means “the enigmatic leviathan turtle”, based on the Leviathan – a biblical sea beast of enormous dimensions. Researchers are puzzled at the massive size of the turtle, which they describe as the size of a small car – a Mini Cooper to be precise.

“The surprise was huge. The truth is that the remains of marine reptiles are not common in the Pyrenees and even fewer of these dimensions. he morphology of the fossils was also very curious, in the research process we were clear that it was a new species for science,” Oscar Castillo, a researcher at the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Paleontology, said in a statement.

Researchers described the remains discovered in northeastern Spain as about 12 feet long, weighing a bit under two tons, and the turtle lived during the Cretaceous Period – the final chapter in the age of dinosaurs. The find dwarfs today’s largest turtle – the leatherback, which can reach 7 feet long and is known for marathon marine migrations.

It was good to be the size of a car, considering the hazardous traffic in the ancient Tethys Sea in which Leviathanochelys swam. Huge marine reptiles with powerful jaws called mosasaurs were the largest predators – some exceeding 50 feet (15 meters) in length. Various sharks and rays as well as long-necked fish-eating marine reptiles called plesiosaurs also lurked.

The study indicates that Leviathanochelys is one of the oldest representatives of the Chelonioidea, the group that includes all modern sea turtles. Beyond its colossal dimensions, the new species of turtle has protuberances in the anterior part of the pelvis never seen in any other turtle.

Researchers suspect that the bony projections, linked to the muscles that controlled the contraction of the animal’s belly, could have participated in functions related to the respiratory system. The anatomical features of this new species suggest that it had a pelagic lifestyle and was capable of reaching great depths.

The fossils were first discovered in 2016 by a hiker near Cal Torrades, in the municipality of Coll de Nargó (Alt Urgell). Following the preliminary study, excavation campaigns were carried out at the site which allowed the recovery of the back of the shell and an almost complete pelvis of almost 90 cm in width.

Other large turtles from Earth’s past include Protostega and Stupendemys, both reaching about 13 feet (4 meters) long. Protostega was a Cretaceous sea turtle that lived about 85 million years ago and, like its later cousin Archelon, inhabited the large inland sea that at the time split North America in two.


India today