Stunning Fossil Find: 'Bizarre' Marine Turtle Got as Big as a Hippo

The turtle earned its Leviathan-inspired name.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Illustration of a large gray sea turtle diving underwater.
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Illustration of a large gray sea turtle diving underwater.

Leviathanochelys aenigmatica was a jumbo sea turtle that lived millions of years ago.


Modern-day marine turtles can get pretty big, but not hippopotamus-size big. A newly discovered marine turtle dating to over 72 million years ago was an absolute unit. Fossil evidence shows it could have reached 12.3 feet (3.74 meters) in length. That's well within hippo range, and makes it one of the largest marine turtles ever found.

A team of paleontologists with the Autonomous University of Barcelona published a study on the fossil in Scientific Reports on Thursday. The paper's title refers to the extinct animal as "a gigantic bizarre marine turtle." 

The turtle's size earned it the fitting name of Leviathanochelys aenigmatica. That's a reference to the massive mythological sea monster Leviathan. 

The fossil was excavated in fragments between 2016 and 2021 in Northeastern Spain. Researchers found an almost complete pelvis and parts of the upper shell. "The specimen possesses a distinctive prominence of bone that protrudes forwards from the front of the pelvis," Scientific Reports said in a statement. "This feature differs to other marine turtles, and indicates that Leviathanochelys represents a new taxon (group) of ancient marine turtles." 

The turtle's estimated size makes it the largest ever discovered in Europe. Extinct turtles in other parts of the world were already known to grow to huge lengths. Check out this jumbo specimen from South America. The European turtle shows that these animals grew to gigantic proportions despite living in very different locations across the globe. 

The largest living sea turtles are leatherbacks, which can reach 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length. You'd have to put two of them together in a trench coat to reach the same size as Leviathanochelys aenigmatica.