PANAMA CITY, Panama, April 13 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve discovered a new fossil turtle species in Colombia’s Cerrejon coal mine.
Researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, and the Florida Museum of Natural History said the find helps explain the origin of one of the most biodiverse groups of turtles in South America.
“Cerrejonemys wayuunaiki takes its genus name from Cerrejon, and emys — Greek for turtle,” the scientists said. About as thick as a standard dictionary, the turtle’s shell may have warded off attacks by the Titanoboa, thought to have been the world’s biggest snake, and by other crocodile-like creatures living in its neighborhood 60 million years ago, the scientists said.
“We are still trying to understand why six of this turtle’s modern relatives live in the Amazon, Orinoco and Magdalena river basins of South America and one lives in Madagascar,” said Edwin Cadena, first author of the study and a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University. “It closes an important gap in the fossil record and supports the idea that the group originated near the tip of South America before the continent separated from India and Madagascar more than 90 million years ago.”
The discovery is reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
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