Bizarre turtle fossil adds to the Cretaceous portrait of Utah, as it was discovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Since the fossil was unearthed, the most striking feature observed by the paleonthology team was the area of its nose. Modern turtles and other ancestors of the shelled creature have only one opening in the skull representing the nose. Arvinachelys goldeni as the bizarre turtle fossil has been dubbed, has two. Which renders its nose more similar to the snout of a pig. In the case of other turtles, the differentiation between one nostril and another is simply a soft tissue barrier.
With Arvinachelys goldeni, it’s a strong bony barrier. The pig-like snout of the bizarre turtle fossil has drawn it the name of Miss Piggy before the scientific name was established. Now, its name is derived from a couple of Latin words (no surprise here). For once, arvina is translated as pig fat or even bacon. Chelys is the correspondent of the word tortoise in Latin. While goldeni stands for Jerry Golden, the volunteer creator of the
Cretaceous turtle holotype specimen.
Doctor Joshua Lively who was studying the 76 million years old bizarre turtle fossil as a graduate student, is now a researcher with the University of Texas at Austin. As lead author on the paper describing how the Bizarre turtle fossil adds to the Cretaceous portrait of Utah, he 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”.
The length of Arvinachelys goldeni is estimated to have been two feet long at maturity. In addition to the pig-like snout, the ancient turtle has a clearly streamlined shell, indicating the reptile lived in the lakes and rivers of the Cretaceous landscape in Utah. The bizarre turtle fossil is a feat for researchers not only for its anatomically unique pig-like snout, but for also coming also almost complete.
The fossil unearthed in Utah has a complete skull, parts of the hind limbs, one complete forelimb and vertebrae of the neck and tail. Reconstruction the holotype was certainly easier due to the wealth of fossilized parts.
Arvinachelys goldeni helped add to the long-held idea that the territory of modern-day Utah was rich in biodiversity. With lowland plains and brazed by rivers, it was hosting a number of species. Further research might also show what made Cretaceous Utah so special.
Photo Credits: National Geographic