Ancient pig-snouted turtle fossil discovered in Utah sheds new light on turtle evolution and the impact of climate change on turtle species.
Unearthed in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, the Cretaceous era pig-snouted turtle bears the name Arvinachelys goldeni. The newest addition to the list of species populating the territory of the modern-day Utah state comes as the missing puzzle piece to turtle evolution. Its name is derived from the Latin ‘arvina’, standing for pig fat, ‘chelys’ – standing for tortoise and the name of the volunteer that aided the paleontology team with creating the holotype specimen, Jerry Golden.
The ancient pig-snouted turtle fossil discovered in Utah was brought to light by a paleontology team of the Natural History Museum of Utah. Doctor Joshua Lively, member of the team and now working with the University of Texas at Austin, as well as the lead author on the paper describing the exciting finding, stated:
“Anatomically, it’s one of the most bizarre turtles that ever lived. More importantly, it adds to a growing story about ecosystem dynamics during the Late Cretaceous across western North America”.
This bizarre, 76 million years old turtle is differentiated by the pig snout like nose. Typically, turtles have one external nose opening, while this specimen clearly indicates the existence of two nose openings, separated by bony structures. With other turtles, the separation is fleshy.
Part of the baenids family, the pig-snouted turtle is estimated to have grown two feet long from its head to the end of the tail. It may have not been a giant, but, as the streamlined shell indicates, living in rivers and lakes kept it safe from possible predators.
During the Cretaceous era, the climate in Utah was more similar to the climate in modern Louisiana. With a predominantly riverine landscape, lowland floodplains and bayous lining it, the climate was also hot and wet. Here, armored ankylosaurs, tyrannosaurs and parasaurolophus or gryposaurus would have shared the landscape with the Arvinachelys goldeni.
The ancient pig-snouted turtle fossil discovered in Utah is also one of the most complete ever unearthed. The shell and skull with the two bony nose openings are complete. At the same time, tail and neck vertebrae, as well as one forelimb and partial hind limbs complete the image of what the 76 million years old turtle would have looked like.
What the researchers are trying to understand through the new lens offered by the pig-snouted turtle fossil is the differentiated evolution of species on the ancient island continent of Laramidia.
Separated by a sea from North America, Laramidia seems to have hosted a number of species like the Arvinachelys goldeni that evolved in isolation from the species found in modern-day Montana or Alberta.
Photo Credits: sci-news.com