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03-19-2024

Peltocephalus maturin: Giant turtle named after Stephen King novel

A colossal freshwater turtle fossil, dating back to the late Pleistocene era (40,000 to 9,000 years ago), was unearthed by researchers from the University of Tübingen.

Scientists named this remarkable creature “Peltocephalus maturin” after a colossal turtle in Stephen King’s fictional universe. Remarkably, it is ranked among the largest known freshwater turtles that have ever existed.

Peltocephalus maturin

The research was led by Dr. Gabriel S. Ferreira from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment.

Interestingly, the study was launched after gold miners in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest found a fossilized turtle jaw. This ancient relic holds a wealth of knowledge for paleontologists.

Dr. Ferreira’s expertise transformed a mere bone fragment into a key piece of evolutionary history. His team’s careful analysis not only identified the species but also established a compelling link to the modern big-headed Amazon turtle (Peltocephalus dumerilianus).

Characteristics of Peltocephalus maturin

Peltocephalus maturin has several standout features that define its place within the turtle family tree. The experts gathered the following evidence:

  • Size: Scientists estimate Peltocephalus maturin’s shell at about nearly 6 feet long.
  • Powerful jaws: The specimen includes mostly complete, massive, and fused dentaries. The robust, fused jawbone suggests a strong bite and potential for an omnivorous diet (plants and animals).
  • Hooked tip: A distinctive hooked tip at the front of the jaw likely played a role in the turtle’s feeding habits.
  • Ridges and shape: Unique straight ridges and a U-shaped structure on the jawbone are notable, as is a well-developed hook at the front and a platform below the chewing surface.
  • Telling Pits: The jawbone has a small pit with two indentations, a pattern that differs from other related turtle species.

Coexistence with humans

“In the past, we only know of a few turtles living in fresh waters that had a shell length of more than 150 centimeters (4.9 feet),” explained Dr. Ferreira. “Such large animals are most recently known primarily from the Miocene, the period around 23 to 5 million years ago.”

The discovery of Peltocephalus maturin changes things. This giant turtle was alive much more recently, meaning it likely co-existed with early humans in the Amazon.

“People settled in the Amazon region around 12,600 years ago,” noted Dr. Ferreira. “We also know that large tortoises have been on the diet of hominins since the Paleolithic.”

Impact of human expansion

The researchers are uncertain whether Peltocephalus maturin and other megafaunal species fell victim to human expansion in the region.

“Whether freshwater turtles, which are much more difficult to catch due to their agility, were also eaten by early humans and whether Peltocephalus maturin – together with the South American megafauna – fell victim to human expansion is still unclear.”

To shed light on this mystery, Dr. Ferreira emphasized the need for further exploration. “Here we need more data from the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene deposits of the Amazon Basin.”

Discovery of Peltocephalus maturin

Ancient turtles hold a special fascination for paleontologists. These remarkably long-lived creatures, with fossils dating back over 220 million years, have survived mass extinctions and adapted to an astonishing variety of environments.

The discovery of Peltocephalus maturin expands our understanding of the remarkable diversity of ancient life. It also raises fascinating questions about the interactions between early humans and the megafauna that once roamed the Amazon.

Moreover, ancient turtles were not just passive observers – they actively shaped their environments. Their size and diet, revealed through fossils, offer clues about their place in the food chain and how they interacted with other species. This knowledge informs our understanding of how ancient ecosystems functioned.

The study is published in the journal Biology Letters.

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