Fossils of Ancient Sea Turtle Previously Unknown to Science Discovered

sea-turtle-fossilSkull fragment. Image: Oceana/Twitter ; Credit Timothy Myers

A paleontologist just released a statement that he discovered the remains of a sea turtle that was previously unknown to science.

About 65.5 million years ago, an asteroid struck Earth’s surface, leading to a mass extinction that wiped out around three-quarters of all species. However, an unlikely animal survived — the sea turtle.

In June 2012, a piece of bone was spotted by Louis Jacobs, a vertebrate paleontologist at Southern Methodist University, sticking out of a cliff face in Cabinda, which is a province of Angola. Jacobs and his team uncovered the bone to find that it was a nearly complete turtle skull, along with a neck bone called the hyoid.

This prehistoric turtle, which has not been named yet, lived about 64 million years ago, during the Paleogene period. It is closely related to sea turtles that swam the seas before the asteroid hit Earth, providing strong evidence that sea turtles survived the extinction known for killing off the dinosaurs. It is also distantly related to modern green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles.

green-sea-turtleGreen sea turtle. Image: Brocken Inaglory

Analysis of the turtle’s skull showed that it had a large palate, meaning it may have eaten tougher food like lobsters and clams in addition to squid and fish. Its eyes faced slightly to the side, and it was about a meter long. When it lived, the turtle would have thrived in a shallow marine environment, in a much more arid region than it is today.

This analysis was announced at the meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology on October 28th, 2016.

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Featured image: Sea turtle skull, Alejandro Linares Garcia