This Ancient Turtle Survived the Extinction Event That Killed T. Rex

The softshell turtle roamed the waters during the Late Cretaceous 66 million years ago.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
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Ancient softshell turtle

This ancient softshell turtle survived the dinosaur-ending extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period.

Sergey Krasovskiy

Scientists have discovered an ancient softshell turtle they say lived at the same time as the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the triceratops in North Dakota 66.5 million years ago. 

It's one of the earliest known species of the softshell turtle, with the fossilized creature having lived during the Late Cretaceous period just before the mass extinction event, according to new research published in the Cretaceous Research journal on Thursday. 

"With this study, we gain further insight into winners and losers during the cataclysm that ended the Age of Dinosaurs," said research adviser Peter Dodson. "The mighty dinosaurs fell, and the lowly turtle survived." 

The fossil of the new species was discovered way back in 1975 in the Hell Creek Formation of North Dakota along with a triceratops specimen. But it remained at Appalachian State University until 2013, when research on it finally began. 

The turtle, named Hutchemys walkerorum, is similar to softshell turtles found today, including the giant softshell turtles in southern Asia. The ancient one, however, had larger and stronger bones covering its stomach and abdominal area.

It's rare to find an occurrence of these turtles prior to the dinosaur-ending extinction event, researchers said. It was also the easternmost occurrence of this softshell turtle genus from the Cretaceous Period. 

"We are starting to get more information on this extinct group of turtles and further understanding their evolution, including how they dealt with the mass extinction," said Steven Jasinski, an environmental scientist who led the research.

The newly discovered subfamily of softshell turtles originated in Asia, likely in the middle to late Early Cretaceous, and migrated to North America during the Late Cretaceous, the researchers said.