Sunday, 17 July 2016

Turtle shells didn’t evolve for protection, study claims

JULY 17, 2016

by Chuck Bednar

While modern-day turtles rely upon their shells as protection from predators, that wasn’t the primary reasons that the reptiles’ bone-based outer casing originally evolved, researchers from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science have revealed in a newly-published study.

Rather, the broad ribbed proto shell found on the earliest partially shelled fossil turtles was an adaptation designed to help the creature burrow underground, not protect itself from becoming lunch for an aggressive carnivore, an international team lead by Denver Museum paleontologist Dr. Tyler Lyson reported in Friday’s edition of the journal Current Biology.

“Why the turtle shell evolved is a very Dr. Seuss-like question and the answer seems pretty obvious – it was for protection,” Dr. Lyson explained in a statement. “But just like the bird feather did not initially evolve for flight, 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.”

These digging adaptations helped facilitate the movement of turtles into aquatic environments early on in the creature’s evolutionary history, and probably played an key role in helping stem turtles survive the Permian/Triassic extinction event, the authors wrote in their study.

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