The ancestor of all turtles has been found. The lizard-like grandfather of turtles roamed the Earth 240 million years ago. Its fossils clearly indicate that turtles are in fact related to lizards and snakes rather than dinosaurs.
The exciting finding from Germany’s Schumann quarry has been named by the scientific team analyzing the fossil the grandfather turtle or Pappochelys. This lizard-like creature from the Triassic Period sheds new light on the lineage of turtles. Until recently it was believed, according to molecular analysis that modern turtles are, as birds, living dinosaurs.
Not any more, as Grandfather turtle proves that modern turtles are keen to snakes and lizards due to the combination of traits of both this group and what it seems to pinpoint emerging turtle-features.
Grandfather turtle is as old as its name suggests: the 240 million years old ancestor of turtles was just a 20-centimeter reptile that lived in the Triassic. Pappochelys precedes the Odontochelys which until recently was the oldest known turtle, with only 20 million years old and had been found in China.
The scientists involved in the discovery, classified Pappochelys as belonging to the diapsid group. This includes dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds as well as other species that have gone extinct. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that grandfather turtle was more related to snakes and lizards more than to any other creature in the diapsid group.
Surprisingly perhaps, grandfather turtle did not have a shell like we see in modern-day turtles. The lizard-like Pappochelys did however feature a hard bonned wall across the belly and T-shaped ribs.
Hans-Dieter Sues and Rainer Schoch, both involved in the study revealing the ancestor of modern day turtles explained:
“This configuration of the ribs would have immobilized them and led to the development of a novel way of breathing in turtles. Modern developmental studies indicate that the turtle shell formed from bony outgrowths of the vertebrae and ribs”.
Except for the features that predict the upcoming turtle shell, Pappochelys had a broad trunk, a long tail and peg-like danture that would allow it to feed on small lizards and insects.
The grandfather of turtles lived along freshwater lakes. Perhaps the tail and the legs were useful tools for swimming and steering in the waters.
And although the Pappochelys lived 10 million years before dinosaurs roamed, its freshwater lake habitat was not too safe. Mastodonsaurus, the five meter long amphibian lurked in the waters as the largest lake predator. On land, crocodile Batrachotomus was a six meter long predator threatening the life of the grandfather of turtles.
The study is an important step in untangling the debate on the origin of turtles and the evolution of a shell.
A more detailed account of Pappochelys or the grandfather turtle was published in the journal Nature.
Image Source: npr.org