In the world of reptiles, turtles have a certain reputation as shell-dwelling wimps that make nice pets for 8-year-old girls. They're slow and passive and hardly what one would call intimidating. Sure, you can argue that the snapping turtles pack a mean bite, but who among us has actually been at the receiving end of one?
It turns out, though, that 60 million years ago, some turtles were far more imposing than their meek and modern counterparts. A team of researchers recently unveiled the discovery of Carbonemys cofrinii, an ancient turtle that measured roughly eight feet tip to tail and likely dined on crocodiles.
Edwin Cadena, who started the research as a graduate student at the University of Florida, found the giant beast in a Colombian mine. The picture below shows Cadena piecing together the shell, which is about five feet.
Yes, having a shell that size pretty much gave Carbonemys cofrinii free reign over prehistoric waters.
Jonathan Bloch of the Florida Museum of Natural History, who contributed to the study, explained that the eight-foot-long turtle swam "around without too much fear. The only animals it probably would've had to worry about were the dyrosaurids," an ancient relative of crocodiles.
In fact, Bloch says they've discovered turtle shells from the same area in Colombia that have bite marks on them.
The drawing below shows what a fully intact giant turtle probably looked liked. The lizard-looking thing dangling from its mouth is a small ancient crocodile, which the researcher suspects Carbonemys cofrinii ate.
You might be asking yourself how these turtles got so big. Cadena points out that the discovery shows that reptiles thrived in the postdinosaur tropics. There was ample space and plenty of food to go around, so competition among gigantic beasts wasn't as cut-throat as one might expect.
The mine in which the specimen was discovered was also where researchers uncovered Titanoboa, a roughly 50-foot-long snake. According to Cadena and colleagues, the enormous turtle was one of the few animals that Titanoboa couldn't devour.