Paleontologists have described what is now believed to be the world's oldest sea turtle specimen, beating the previous record holder by 25 million years. The 120-million-year-old creature, dubbed Desmatochelys padillai sp., measures nearly 2 meters (6.5 feet) long.
In 2007, the "almost completely preserved skeleton" was discovered next to four skulls and two shells in central Colombia by hobby paleontologists. Researchers have dated the fossils back to the Cretaceous period based on the turtles' physical characteristics and the sediment in which the fossils were discovered.
That the turtle dates back to the Cretaceous period is significant: It was at some point during that period that turtles split into land and sea dwellers. A "sparse" fossil record, however, prevents paleontologists from determining exactly when the split occurred.
"This lends a special importance to every fossil discovery that can contribute to clarifying the phylogeny of the sea turtles," turtle expert Dr. Edwin Cadena explains in a news release.
Cadena and his colleagues have classified Desmatochelys padillai sp. in the Chelonioidea group, making it an ancestor of the modern hawksbill and green sea turtles.
Article first appeared on Discovery's Discovrd blog.