Friday, November 21, 2008

Eileanchelys: Oldest Aquatic Turtle

A new stem turtle from the Middle Jurassic of Scotland: new insights into the evolution and palaeoecology of basal turtles. 2008. Anquetin et al. Proc. Royal Society B published on-line Tuesday, November 18, 2008.

From the press release:

The new turtle species Eileanchelys waldmani from the Middle Jurassic period (~164 million years old) from the Isle of Skye off the north-western coast of Scotland is the missing link between land-based and aquatic turtles. They were uncovered from rocks on the Isle of Skye by a team including researchers at University College London (UCL).

The oldest turtle fossils date from about 210 million years ago in the Late Triassic period and came from land-living rather than aquatic animals.

Ilustration of the oldest known aquatic turtle's habitat 160 million years ago on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
Eileanchelys was relatively small, with a shell around 20cm in length. It lived in lagoons and lakes alongside salamanders and sharks, in a habitat that was very different from today’s Isle of Skye.

Most modern turtles are aquatic and live in tropical areas of the world. There are about 300 species alive today and many of these are endangered.