November 19, 2008

Find shows turtles swam with dinosaurs

Fossils found on the Isle of Skye indicate a primitive turtle may have moved from land to water 164 million years ago, scientists said.

Paleontologists said the species, Eileanchelys waldmani, began swimming in the island's lakes and lagoons and represents the missing link in the turtles' evolution, The Times of London reported.

Eileanchelys waldmani can be plausibly interpreted as the earliest known aquatic turtle, researchers said in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Scientists said they concluded that the newly found species was aquatic because the fossils were found in rock that once formed a lake bed and because the likelihood of contemporary land animals being washed into the pool was remote.

Although the majority of modern turtles are aquatic forms, it has been convincingly demonstrated that the most primitive turtles from ... about 210 million years ago, were exclusively terrestrial, said Jeremy Anquetin, of one of the researchers who studied the turtle fossils. Now we know for sure that there were aquatic turtles around 164 million years ago. This discovery also demonstrates that turtles were more ecologically diverse early in their history than had been suspected before.