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Largest ever found in Europe

Largest ever found in Europe

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An illustrated reconstruction of Leviathanochelys aenigmatica

An illustrated reconstruction of Leviathanochelys aenigmatica. Photo credit: ICRA_Arts.

According to a new article published in Scientific Reports, a recently discovered species of ancient turtle in Spain with an estimated body length of up to 3.74 meters may have been one of the largest sea turtles to have ever lived. This makes it the largest sea turtle found in Europe to date.

The largest known sea turtles, such as the extinct genus Archelon, which could grow up to 4.6 meters long and weigh up to 3.2 tons, lived in the seas around North America during the Cretaceous Period. No known European sea turtle, either extinct or alive, has exceeded 1.5 meters in shell length.

Àngel H. Luján, Albert Sellés and colleagues describe the remains of a new sea turtle specimen – which they call Leviathanochelys aenigmatica – found in the town of Cal Torrades in northeastern Spain, which appeared to be almost as large as Archelon. The remains, excavated between 2016 and 2021, consist of a fragmented but almost complete basin and parts of the upper shell (carapace), and date to the Campanian Age, 83.6 to 72.1 million years ago.

The specimen has a distinctive bony prominence projecting forward from the front of the pelvis. This feature is distinct from other sea turtles and indicates that Leviathanochelys represents a new taxon (group) of ancient sea turtles. This protrusion could be related to the respiratory system, the authors suggest.

Based on the tank size, the authors calculate that Leviathanochelys could have reached a body length of up to 3.74 meters. They estimate that the maximum width of Leviathanochelys’ pelvis was 88.9 centimeters, which is slightly larger than the best estimate for Archelon’s best-known specimen (81.0 cm wide). The front-to-back length of the pelvis has been estimated at 39.5 cm (15.5 in), slightly less than Archelon’s (46.0 cm long). This makes Leviathanochelys the largest sea turtle ever discovered in Europe and one of the largest in the world. These results suggest that gigantism in sea turtles evolved independently in different lineages in both North America and Europe, the authors said.

Reference: “A gigantic bizarre marine turtle (Testudines: Chelonioidea) from the Middle Campanian (Late Cretaceous) of South-western Europe” by Oscar Castillo-Visa, Àngel H. Luján, Àngel Galobart and Albert Sellés, 17 November 2022, Scientific reports .
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-22619-w

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