March of the Fossil Penguins

Fossil penguin discoveries and research

Meet Carbonemys

with 3 comments

Today I am breaking the all penguins rule at March of the Fossil Penguins to share a very special discovery.  My graduate student Edwin Cadena studies another fascinating group of aquatic animals – side-necked turtles.  Today, our paper on a new species of extinct turtle from Colombia hits the scientific newsstands.  Carbonemys cofrinii was a behemoth of a turtle.  It’s head was almost as big as a football and its shell was bigger than a person when stood on end.  Edwin discovered this amazing fossil in a coal mine, hence the name “Carbonemys“, Latin for “coal turtle”.   Carbonemys lived alongside many other reptiles in a sweltering swampland about 58 million years ago, several million years after the extinction that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs.  Among these were smaller turtles, crocodiles, and the largest snake ever discovered – Titanoboa. Aside from leading the scientific paper that formally describes this new turtle, Edwin was the discoverer of the ancient shell.  Other turtle remains from smaller species collected in the area have crocodilian bite marks, indicating they  had to be wary of predators.  Not so for an adult Carbonemys – crocodiles would have more to fear from the turtle than the turtle would from them.

Next week, it’s back to penguins, but today let’s celebrate this monster turtle.

Life reconstruction of Carbonemys, munching on a small crocodile. Artwork by Liz Bradford.

Cadena, E.A., D.T. Ksepka, C.A. Jaramilo and J.I. Bloch. New pelomedusoid turtles (Testudines, Panpleurodira) from the late Paleocene Cerrejón Formation of Colombia and implications for phylogeny and body size evolution. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Written by Dan Ksepka

May 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Did this turtle live in salt water or fresh water? If it is fresh water it would probably never meet a pengiun. But if it was salt water, they should watch out!!!!!!!!! I bet a person could live in side this empty shell if they only had a little bit of stuff.


    May 17, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    • Carbonemys lived in freshwater, in a jungle environment. At the time it lived, penguins probably were only living in New Zealand because we don’t have any penguin fossils this old from places like South America.

      Dan Ksepka

      May 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm

  2. I think this turtle is definitely cool enough to justify bending the only-penguins rule. Congratulations to the Carbonemys team!


    May 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

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