This Ancient Transylvanian Turtle Survived the Asteroid That Killed Off the Dinosaurs

A new species of ancient turtle that survived the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs has been discovered in Romania.

Fossils uncovered in Transylvania were found to be a never-before-seen creature that lived 70 million years ago. The turtle's closest relative is a species that lived 57 million years ago—meaning the seven inch long reptile dubbed Dortoka vremiri lived through the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction 66 million years ago.

This event, which wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs, was triggered by a massive asteroid hitting Earth. It killed off around 75 percent of all species on Earth.

The six-mile-wide asteroid hit Earth where modern-day Mexico is with such force it left a crater 90 miles wide. Huge amounts of debris were ejected and massive tidal waves traveled around the globe. So much soot and dust was thrown up into Earth's atmosphere that the sun was partially blocked, causing many plant species to die and ecosystems to collapse.

The discovery of Dortoka vremiri shows how animals further away from the impact site may have been less affected by the asteroid. It also provides an insight into why some species survived, while others did not. The team published their findings in the Journal of Systematic Paleontology.

Dortoka vremiri samples found in Romania
Dortoka vremiri samples found in Romania. The ancient turtle species lived alongside the last dinosaurs but managed to survive the extinction event that wiped them out. Zoltan Csiki-Sava

Lead author Felix Augustin, from the Department of Geosciences at Eberhard Karls University, Germany, told Newsweek: "Our study indicates that the effects of the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous were not as severe in Eastern Europe as they were in Western Europe ... certain mammal groups died out in western Europe while they survived in eastern Europe—this pattern now seems to have been true for turtles as well.

"Furthermore, the new turtle species was semi-aquatic, which likely also helped it survive the mass extinction."

Augustin said that other sites in North America have shown freshwater habitats appear to have offered animals protection against the worst impacts of the asteroid strike.

The region that the ancient Transylvanian turtle lived in looked very different from modern-day western Romania. In the Cretaceous period, the region was part of Hateg Island, which sat in the middle of the ancient Tethys Sea.

The area has proved a boon for paleontologists with many smaller ancient creatures including smaller "dwarf" dinosaurs discovered there. Augustin said the turtle lived alongside small dinosaurs and gigantic flying pterosaurs.

While the discovery of Dortoka vremiri helps us understand this ancient world, Augustin said it can also shed light on Earth's future: "We are currently facing a mass extinction—caused by our own species—and some of the best clues of how such extinction events take place come from the past.

"The current paper definitively can teach us that not every place on earth will face the same consequences during the extinction and that some animal groups have better chances to come through the extinction event due to their specific ecological adaptations."