Fossil of ancient pig-snout turtle discovered, could shed light on evolution of species

The fossil of a turtle unlike any other has been discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante national Monument. It is approximately 76 million years old and has a snout like a pig.

The paleontology team from the Natural History Museum of Utah published a paper discussing the turtle in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The now extinct Arvinachelys goldeni, as the turtle is called, would have been two feet long from head to tail. Its shell was streamlined for living in rivers. Unlike normal turtles, theArvinachelys goldeni has a broad, flat snout with two nasal openings separated by a small bone. Most turtles only have one nasal opening in their skull and the nostrils are separated by flesh.

While most ancient turtle fossils only consist of a shell or possibly a skull, theArvinachelys goldeni was found with a shell, skull, and vertebrae from neck to tail as well as partial limbs.

Researchers hope that theArvinachelys goldeni will help to better the current understanding of turtles’ 250 million year evolution.

“With only isolated skulls or shells, we are unable to fully understand how different species of fossil turtles are related, and what roles they played in their ecosystems,” said Randall Irmis, curator of paleontology at the museum and associate professor at the University of Utah.

“It’s one of the weirdest turtles that ever lived,” said the paper’s author Joshua Lively. “It really helps add to the story emerging from dinosaur research carried out at the Natural History Museum of Utah.”
The turtle is believed to have lived alongside dinosaurs such as the tyrannosaurs, the armored ankylosaur, and duck-billed giants such as gryposaurus and parasaurolophus. During the Cretaceous period, the environment of Utah would have more closely resembled that of present-day Louisiana. It was hot and wet world featuring bayous and lowland flood plains. Along with dinosaurs, many lizards, turtles, and crocodile-like creatures would have existed at the time.
Arvinachelys goldeni is derived from the Latin arvina, which means pig fat or bacon, and chelys, meaning tortoise. The goldeni is an homage to Jerry Golden, a volunteer fossil expert at the Natural History Museum of Utah who prepares many of the museums collections.

“Volunteers are involved in every aspect of what we do, from field work and digging up specimens to preparing them,” said Irmis. “In 2014, volunteers provided 14,500 hours of work. It’s a massive contribution. We couldn’t do what we do without them. We really consider them key team members.”

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