‘Turtvik’ Ancient Turtle Species Discovered After Fossil Mystery Solved

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New research has revealed that ancient plant fossils that have baffled scientists are not plants at all.

Instead, the small round shapes with a leaf-like shape were once the shells of baby turtles that lived in the time of the dinosaurs. “Scientists have nicknamed the turtle species.Durtwick,” after a Pokemon character who is half turtle, half plant.

According to the study’s authors, this marks the first time baby turtle carapaces have been discovered in northwestern South America.

The results of their study were published Thursday in the journal Paleontologia Electronics.

“In the Pokémon universe, you’re faced with the idea of ​​combining two or more elements, animals, machines, plants,” said Hector Palma-Castro, a paleobotany graduate student at the National University of Colombia. A statement.

“So, if you have a fossil that was initially classified as a plant that turns out to be a baby turtle, a few Pokemon immediately come to mind. In this case, Turdwig, a turtle with a leaf attached to its head.

But solving this age-old mystery that started decades ago required some intrigue.

It all started when Colombian priest Padre Gustavo Huertas discovered fossils in the Baja Formation. This formation is known as the Marine Reptile Lagerstad, one of Colombia’s geological heritage sites. of Ricaurte Alto.

Previous fossil finds from the site include dinosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, turtles and crocodilian relatives known as crocodylomorphs, dating from the Early Cretaceous period, between 113 million and 132 million years ago.

Huertas collected fossils and rocks at a site near the town of Villa de Leyva from the 1950s to the 1970s. When he found leaf-shaped rocks, he thought they were a fossilized plant. Huertas described specimens of Sphenophyllum columbianum in a 2003 study.

But other scientists were surprised to hear that the plant was found in northern South America and dated between 113 million and 132 million years ago. According to the fossil record, the now-extinct plant, once widespread around the world, died out 100 million years ago.

Previous research on the plant showed that its leaves are typically wedge-shaped with veins radiating from the base of the leaf.

The age and location of the fossils intrigued Palma-Castro and Fabiani Herrera, assistant curator of paleobotany at the Negaunee Integrated Research Center at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Herrera collects and studies plants Early Cretaceous Period (100.5 million to 145 million years ago) in northwestern South America, an area of ​​the continent where little paleobotanical research has taken place.

Both fossils, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter, are housed in the National University of Columbia’s Department of Geosciences collection. When Herrera and Palma-Castro examined and photographed the fossils, they thought something was strange.

“When you look at it in detail, the lines in the fossil don’t look like the veins of a plant — I’m pretty sure it’s mostly bone,” Herrera, the study’s senior author, said in a statement.

Herrera contacted Edwin-Alberto Cadena, a senior lecturer and paleontologist who studies turtles and other vertebrates at the University of Del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia.

“They sent me the photos, and I said, ‘It sure looks like a carapace’—the bony top shell of a turtle,” Cadena said in a paper. “I said, ‘Well, it’s remarkable because not only is it a turtle, but it’s also a hatchling, and it’s very small.’

Cadena and one of his students, Diego Compita-Romero, at the National University of Colombia, compared the fossils with the shells of other extinct and modern turtles.

“I was surprised when we saw the specimen for the first time because the fossil lacked the typical markings on the outside of a turtle’s shell,” study co-author Kompita-Romero said in a statement. “It was a little hollow, like a bowl. At that point, we realized that the visible part of the fossil was the other side of the carapace, and we were looking at the shell part inside the turtle.

During the study of the shells, the researchers determined that the turtles were at most 1 year old when they died.

As young turtles grow, their growth rates and sizes vary, Gambita-Romero said. But the bones of young turtles are so thin that their remains are rarely found.

“These turtles may have been relatives of other Cretaceous species that reached fifteen feet in length, but we don’t know much about how they actually grew to such large sizes,” Catena said in a statement.

The researchers did not blame Huertas for misclassifying the fossils as plants. What he believed to be the leaves and stems were the vertebrae and ribs in the tortoise shell.

“We solved a small paleobotanical mystery, but more importantly, this study shows the need to re-study historical collections in Colombia. The Early Cretaceous is an important time in land plant evolution,” Herrera said.

The research team next aims to find the forests that have grown in the region, he said.

“In mythology, your imagination and capacity for wonder is always put to the test,” Palma-Castro said. “Discoveries like this are truly special because they not only expand our knowledge of the past, but also open a window to the many different possibilities we can discover.”

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