Science

Fossil discovered by kid suggests turtle shells were for burrowing, not hiding

Fossil discovered by kid sugge...
An 8-year-old boy dug up this fossilized turtle that scientists believe helps explain the turtle's earliest uses of its shell
An 8-year-old boy dug up this fossilized turtle that scientists believe helps explain the turtle's earliest uses of its shell
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An 8-year-old boy dug up this fossilized turtle that scientists believe helps explain the turtle's earliest uses of its shell
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An 8-year-old boy dug up this fossilized turtle that scientists believe helps explain the turtle's earliest uses of its shell

Every young boy has spent at least one afternoon digging a hole in the ground looking for some kind of treasure. An eight-year-old from South Africa was doing just that when he unearthed a turtle fossil that could help scientists understand the original purpose and evolution of the turtle's shell.

A group of scientists from parts of the world including South Africa, Switzerland and the United States conducted a study on several early turtle fossils including a fossil discovered by an 8-year-old Kobus Snyman on his father's farm in the Western Cape of South Africa. The study that took place at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg found that early turtles may have used their shells for burrowing instead of for protection from potential predators.

The 5.9 inch (15 cm) long turtle fossil discovered by Snyman contains a preserved skeleton with articulated hands and feet. The study published in the journal Current Biology also examined several turtle fossils found in the Karoo Basin of South Africa including a partially shelled proto-turtle that's 260 million years old.

The wide rib patterns in the fossilized turtles' shells are the main clue that points to the shell's main function. This rib pattern provided a weaker form of protection but more rigidity across the thorax, which indicates that the ribs — which form the turtle's shell — moved into place over time as the turtles used their shells to burrow into the Earth.

Dr. Tyler Lyson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science who participated in the study says this broader rib pattern suggests that shells may not have served as the protective function that scientists originally believed.

"Why the turtle shell evolved is a very Dr. Seuss like question and the answer seems pretty obvious – it was for protection," Lyson says. "But just like the bird feather did not initially evolve for flight – we now have early relatives of birds such as tyrannosaur dinosaurs with feathers that definitely were not flying – the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto-turtles lived."

This digging function may have come in handy for turtles trying to move into aquatic environments and may have even helped them survive the Permian-Triassic extinction, an event that occurred around 252 million years ago that wiped out 90 percent of life on Earth. A study published in 2014 by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that this mass extinction event was triggered by the release of methane-releasing microbes into the atmosphere.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: University of Witwatersrand

2 comments
Lbrewer42
As always, science is sacrificed on the altar of politically correct pseudo science. "This rib pattern provided a weaker form of protection but more rigidity across the thorax, which indicates that the ribs — which form the turtle's shell — moved into place over time as the turtles used their shells to burrow into the Earth. " Considering the vast number of biologies and adaptations present in the existing gene pool for organisms known as turtles, how is it scientifically correct to jump to a conclusion this one fossil indicates evolutionary processes migrated the ribs? The scientific approach would be to state what was found: a turtle fossil with ribs positioned differently than we are used to. It can only be stated as scientific that the ribs moved over a period of time if we have in hand the succeeding fossils to show the migration over time. But.. then again this would mean finding what used to be termed "missing links." AAnd we know there never has been a fossile yet found for any organism that is accepted as a true missing link - even by the most prominent evolutionists. So again we have pseudo-science - a theoretical find - with no scientific evidence - is being touted as proving something which in itself is still unprovable. Welcome to the modern, politically correct, Dark Ages.
Siegfried Gust
Lbrewer42, putting this specific example aside for a moment because I don't know any specifics about it, what are you on about saying, "And we know there never has been a fossile yet found for any organism that is accepted as a true missing link"? There are many examples of evolution in the fossil record. Whales would be one that comes to mind because it's fairly complete. How small do the differences need to be between the fossils before you accept that they represent a evolutionary lineage?