Archelon, largest marine turtle on record
By Ashley Anderson
Sea turtles have been around for more than 100 million years, and Archelon is the largest marine turtle known to ever have been in the ocean. This ancient reptile is most closely related to today’s leatherbacks and lived during the Late Cretaceous period. These creatures swam in the seas while dinosaurs roamed the planet.
Archelon lived roughly 65 million to 75 million years ago, and its food source was like what sea turtles today eat — jellyfish and crustaceans. Their predators included sharks and the Mosasaur. Archelon had no reason to dive down, and so mainly lived at the surface of the water, where food was abundant.
These ancient reptiles were about 15 feet long in comparison to the 6-foot leatherbacks seen today. The large flippers on the Archelon indicate that it was a vast swimmer of the sea, but it never traveled alone. Barnacles and small schools of fish would usually accompany the Archelon.
Its shell design was similar to the leatherback. The shell was made of a ribbed structure covered by a thin carapace. This shell allowed the animal to be neutrally buoyant, further explaining the surface life it lived.
Scientists believe the nesting habits of the Archelon were similar to those of modern turtles. While their nesting patterns will never be known, we do know they nested on beaches. Archelon came up in the dark of night to ensure its eggs were laid deep beneath the surface of the ancient beaches.
The Archelon may seem like an ancient stranger to those of us who follow the lives of our local sea turtles today. However, we also find a sense of familiarity in them. They, after all, are the ancient ancestors of today’s leatherback.