Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ancient turtle discovered on Skye

According to an article by James Morgan, a science reporter for BBC news, a new species of turtle may have been found which links land and water-based turtles. It has been named Eileanchelys waldmani, which translates as "the turtle from the island". The 164 million-year-old reptile fossils were found by a team from London's Natural History Museum and University College London (UCL) on a beach on the Scottish island of Skye, off the UK's west coast. The remains, which are being housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, consist of 4 well-preserved turtle skeletons, and the remnants of at least two others.

The team uncovered four remarkably well preserved turtle skeletons

Why did turtles enter the water? “We have no idea. It's a mystery - like asking why cetaceans went back into the sea," said Jérémy Anquetin, of the department of palaeontology at the Natural History Museum. "Little by little, we are filling the gaps and now, we know for sure that there were aquatic turtles around 164 million years ago. Eileanchelys may represent the earliest known aquatic turtle and it is part of a new revision we are having about turtle evolution."

The fossilised turtle shell reveals the transition from land to sea

“This new species helps bridge a 65 million-year gap in the story between the terrestrial "basal" turtles, from the late Triassic, and the aquatic "crown-group" turtles of the late Jurassic. The former were "heavy-built" land-dwellers, with skulls which were "more reptilian", says Mr Anquetin. “The latter were lighter, and closer in appearance to the aquatic, freshwater turtles we know today”.

On the outside, E. waldmani would resemble a modern freshwater turtle. On the inside, however, there are small but very important differences in the cranial anatomy, making this turtle unique.

The Isle of Skye looked very different 164 million years ago

When these turtles were alive in the Middle Jurassic, the land mass on which they occurred was much further south, allowing them to bask in a warm, sub-tropical climate ... very different from the rugged, wind-battered coastlines of modern day Skye. They probably lived in a landscape of shallow lagoons and freshwater lakes together with other aquatic species, such as sharks and salamanders, whose fossils were found alongside E. waldmani.

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