Carbonemys cofrinii was one of the largest turtles ever to crawl the Earth. Scientists from the Florida Museum of Natural History, North Carolina State University, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute recently analyzed the skull and shell of this newly discovered species. At 8 feet long, this 60-million-year old turtle lived in freshwater in what is now Colombia. It had huge jaws that could chomp down on small crocodiles and other turtles. Most interesting, however, is who it lived with. Fossils of other “larger than life” reptiles were also found from the same time period at the same site. The largest known snake Titanoboa cerrejonensis, probably slithered its 48-foot-long scaly body alongside Carbonemys. A fossil skull of Titanoboa from the same Paleocene period as Carbonemys was discovered in the same area in northeastern Colombia in 2004. Giant ancient crocodile relatives called dyrosaurids were probably the only predators big enough to prey on the huge Carbonemys. Edwin Cadena, a PhD student at North Carolina State University, who led the study, says that creatures at this site were so large due to a number of factors; including abundant food supply, little competition, few predators, and the optimal climate in the tropics where these beasts subsisted. This new discovery has important implications for climate change studies. The discovery was made in the wet tropics, where climate changes often and rapidly, and although fossils from this area are rare, they can tell us much about how climate change will affect species in the future.
Postscript: Edwin Cadena was the 2012 winner of the J. Thomas Dutro Jr. Student Award In Systematic Paleontology for this study. This award is given annually by Paleontological Research Institution (Ithaca, NY) in recognition of the importance of basic systematic research to the science of paleontology.
Read more at DiscoveryNews.
The study on Carbonemys can be found in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.
Read more about the giant snake Titanoboa in USA Today.