Turtles have long puzzled scientists. With their shell made of fused and highly modified rib bones and their high adaptability to different environments, turtles are still a mysterious species, and researchers are far from completely understanding how these animals evolved. However, a recently found fossil of an ancient turtle with no shell might shed some light on reptile’s evolution.
Found in China, the fossil belonged to a 2.5-meter-long creature which, in fact, proved to be an ancient turtle, the earliest known animal to possess the characteristics of the modern-day turtles, although it had no shell.
Dubbed as Eorhynchochelys sinensis, the ancient turtle spent its time in coastal ecosystems. According to its appearance, scientists believe the creature strong forelimbs and beak-like jaws to look for food in the sand and mud.
“It probably ate whatever it could get,” explained Xiao-chun Wu from the Canadian Museum of Nature and one of the researchers participating in the study.
Ancient turtle with no shell sheds light on the reptile’s evolution
Although this early turtle had no shell, its body presented wide and flat ribs, signaling the creature’s connection with the reptile’s lineage that gave birth to turtles. But, once the researchers examined the animal’s head, they observed characteristics similar to other groups of animals, such as dinosaurs, crocodiles, lizards, and birds.
In the end, after thoroughly examining this ancient turtle with no shell, the scientists placed the creature on an evolutionary line that led to the appearance of turtles as we know them today.
“The evolution of turtles remains a complex issue. They really went off the normal path in terms of their anatomy and did a number of things that are really strange,” said Dr. Robert Reisz from the University of Toronto.
The fossil of the ancient turtle is about 280 million years old and, according to Xiao-chun Wu, it revealed that turtles evolution was not as straight as believed and many traits were lost and regained during the path.