Friday, 2 March 2018

5.5 million-year-old fossil turtle species sheds light on invasive modern relatives


February 27, 2018, University of Pennsylvania

A University of Pennsylvania paleontologist has described a 5.5 million-year-old fossil species of turtle from eastern Tennessee. It represents a new species of the genus Trachemys, commonly known as sliders, which are frequently kept as pets today.

Steven Jasinski, author of the new study, is a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania and acting curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. He is completing his Ph.D. at Penn under Peter Dodson, a professor of paleontology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts and Sciences and a professor of anatomy in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

The study investigated a fossil turtle found around the Miocene-Pliocene boundary in the Gray Fossil Site, an area rich with fossils in eastern Tennessee near East Tennessee State University, where Jasinski completed his master's degree. The site represents an ancient sinkhole surrounded by a forest from which dozens of fossil animal species have been characterized, including new species of red panda, Eurasian badger, kinosternid turtle, and colubrid snake.

Thorough examination of the dozens of turtle fossils from the site revealed important differences between this turtle and other known fossil and living species. Jasinski named the fossil turtle Trachemys haugrudi, after Shawn Haugrud, the lab and field manager and lead preparer at the Gray Fossil Site.

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