Massive Ancient Sea Turtle Discovered in Spain was Nearly the Size of a Car

Paleontologists in Spain believe they unearthed a new prehistoric sea turtle species that may be among the largest ever, according to research published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona analyzed the pelvis bone and posterior part of the shell recovered from the Pyrenees mountain region in northeastern Spain in 2016 and 2021, and determined the turtle was about 12 feet long (just smaller than the average sedan ), according to a news release on the study.

A hiker traversing the Pyrenees in 2016 stumbled upon part of the fossil. He called the local authorities who recovered the fossil and transferred it to a local museum, where it sat for years until 2021, according to Albert Sellés, a researcher with the university’s Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Paleontology.

That’s when researchers decided to examine the fossil further, Sellés said.

Paleontologists returned to the site where the fossil was found in early 2021 and unearthed another piece of the fossil, according to Sellés.

Sellés, who co-authored the study, said the team began comparing newly discovered remains to other giant ancient sea turtles in the fossil record like Archelon and Protostega , both of which roamed the waters near North America and were the best potential matches. But the fossils had distinct features. Its shell was different, as was its pelvis.

“That’s when we realized that what we had before us was something different,” Sellés told USA TODAY Tuesday.

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The newly discovered turtle is slightly smaller than the extinct Archelon. The world’s largest known prehistoric sea turtle, Archelon could grow to be up to 15 feet long and weigh as much as 3.5 tons, according to the news release.

Still, they were looking at the largest turtle ever found in Europe, Sellés said. The new species, Leviathanochelys aenigmatica, lived 72.1 to 83.6 million years ago during the Campanian Age, when much of modern-day Europe was underwater, the researcher say.

Sellés and his colleagues could glean relatively little about the giant turtle’s lifestyle with such incomplete remains. But they were able to identify some quirks in its physiology.

The pelvis, for example, has two protruding sections that Sellés hypothesizes could have allowed the turtle to compress its stomach area to expel air from its body and descend into deeper waters.

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Leviathanochelys aenigmatica’s very existence also complicates previous understanding about the evolution of large sea turtles because it shows other species of ancient sea turtle could achieve a massive size.

“The evolution of turtles’ sizes is more complex than what he had thought up to this point,” Sellés said. “It was always thought that large sea turtles belonged to the Archelon and Protostega groups. Now it doesn’t seem so.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Massive ancient sea turtle discovered in Spain was nearly the size of a car, researchers say