Extinct South American giant turtle had 10-foot-wide horned shell

Stupendemys geographicus is a turtle species first described in the mid-1970s

Researchers say they've unearthed several fossils from Stupendemys geographicus, a massive freshwater turtle that grew up to four metres (13 feet) long and weighed more than one metric tonne.

Stupendemys - meaning "stupendous turtle" - inhabited a colossal wetlands system spanning what is now Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Peru before the Amazon and Orinoco rivers were formed.

The Stupendemys geographicus was approximately the dimension of an automobile. Bite marks and punctured bones in fossil carapaces of Stupendemys support the notion that the turtle was subjected to predation.

Researchers suggest the unique horn-like shells at the front of the hard upper shells, may have served to protect their massive skulls when engaged in combat with other males. For millions of years, the South American rainforest has fostered unique fauna, including some of the most fantastic extinct giant rodents and crocodilians, including crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gavials.

Marcelo Sanchez, director of the Paleontological Institute and Museum of the University of Zurich (UZH) and head of the study, said: "The carapace of some Stupendemys individuals reached nearly three metres, making it one of the largest, if not the largest turtle that ever existed".

The stupendous turtle was massive by modern standards, but not when compared to some of the huge crocodile ancestors that occupied the same prehistoric swamps of its era.

Palaeontologist Rodolfo Sanchez lies alongside a carapace of the giant turtle Stupendemys geographicus, from Urumaco, Venezuela.

The initially Stupendemys fossils were uncovered in the 1970 s however lots of secrets have actually continued to be regarding the 4- metre lengthy pet. There are only three larger reptile species today, all of them crocodiles like the six-meter-long and one-ton inguinal crocodile.

Paleontologists have known about the turtle's existence since the 1970s, but they haven't found enough specimens yet to build a full profile of its behaviours.

"Its diet was diverse, including small animals - fishes, caimans, snakes - as well as molluscs and vegetation, particularly fruits and seeds. Putting together all the anatomical features of this species indicates that its lifestyle was mostly in the bottom of large freshwater bodies including lakes and large rivers", he said.

Stupendemys is the second-largest known turtle, behind seagoing Archelon, which lived roughly 70m years ago at the end of the age of dinosaurs and reached about 15ft (4.6 meters) in length.

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