Tuesday, 4 June 2013

How Turtles Got Their Shells: Fossil of Extinct South African Reptile Provides Clues

May 30, 2013 — Through careful study of an ancient ancestor of modern turtles, researchers now have a clearer picture of how the turtles' most unusual shell came to be. The findings, reported on May 30 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, help to fill a 30- to 55-million-year gap in the turtle fossil record through study of an extinct South African reptile known as Eunotosaurus.

"The turtle shell is a complex structure whose initial transformations started over 260 million years ago in the Permian period," says Tyler Lyson of Yale University and the Smithsonian. "Like other complex structures, the shell evolved over millions of years and was gradually modified into its present-day shape."

The turtle shell isn't really just one thing -- it is made up of approximately 50 bones. Turtles are the only animals that form a shell through the fusion of ribs and vertebrae. In all other animals, shells are formed from bony scales on the surface; they don't stick their bones on the outsides of their bodies.

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