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Sea Turtle Fossils: A New, Older Species Found in Colombia

Sep 08, 2015 10:58 AM EDT
Sea Turtle
Sea turtle fossils found in Colombia were found to be at least 120 million years old. The specimens examined had all of the same characteristic straits of modern sea turtles.
(Photo : Flickr: Matt Kieffer)

A fossil sea turtle, at least 120 million years old and the oldest and most fully preserved so far, was recently identified by scientists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. The specimens were collected from Colombia and are 25 million years older than the fossils previously determined the oldest.

"Based on the animals‘ morphology and the sediments they were found in, we are certain that we are indeed dealing with the oldest known fossil sea turtle," says Dr. Edwin Cadena, at the Senckenberg Research Institute, in the release.

The fossil is roughly two meters in length, and has all the characteristic traits of modern sea turtles.

According to a news release, sea turtles evolved from land and freshwater turtles that appeared about 230 million years ago. It was during the Cretaceous period that they diversified into land and sea dwellers. Because fossil evidence from this time period is rare, this discovery made by Cadena and his colleague J. Parham, from California State University, Fullerton, is quite unusual, the release noted.  

Shells and bones of the fossilized turtle were originally found in two sites near Villa de Leyva in Colombia. Cadena and Parham examined an almost complete skeleton, along with four additional skulls and two partially preserved shells. Based on structural features, they placed these fossils in the Chelonioidea turtle group. According to the scientists, this family of sea turtles live in tropical and subtropical oceans. An example of these turtles would be the modern Hawksbill Turtle and the Green Sea Turtle.

These findings help researchers better understand sea turtles' evolution. Their study was recently published in the scientific journal PaleoBios

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