A team of Romanian scientists have identified fossils from the Haceg Basin in Transylvania. They belong to animals that survived the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs.

Paleobiologists from the University of Tübingen have described a previously unknown species of tortoise that lived in what is now Romania about 70 million years ago. This 19 cm long reptile has no close relatives now. But it is a member of a larger group of tortoises that are found mostly in the southern hemisphere today. The closest relative of the new species is recorded in later fossils dated to about 57 mya, also from Romania.

As a result, scientists found that this evolutionary line survived the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. Recall that as a result of it, at least 75% of all life forms, including non-avian dinosaurs, died. The new species was named Dortoka vremiri after Matthias Vremir, a renowned Cretaceous vertebrate explorer who passed away in 2020.

Scientists have explained how this little turtle survived when most other species went extinct. The more remote and potentially sheltered paleogeographic conditions of the Transylvanian land mass played a role, experts say.

Turtle fossils found in the Hazeg basin in Transylvania. This site is one of the most important Late Cretaceous vertebrate fossil sites in Europe. It is known for its island fauna of dwarf dinosaurs and other species.