110m-year-old sea turtle fossils found
Australian scientists Wednesday announced the discovery of a dozen fossils from some of the earliest species of sea turtle, believed to be 110-million-years-old.
Paleontologist Ben Kear said the fossils, found late last year in the northeastern state of Queensland, would help scientists understand why sea turtles have remained virtually unchanged for over 100 million years.
“For all intents and purposes, if you were to see one (fossil) they would look basically the same as sea turtles do today,” Kear said.
“Sea turtles have hit on the winning design and they’ve stuck to it, they’ve cracked the winning code, as it were, and it’s enabled them to survive when other creatures haven’t,” he said.
“They’re one of the success stories of marine evolution – if you think about the marine animals that became extinct, well why did sea turtles survive? That’s the sort of questions we can look at now.”
Kear, of the South Australia Museum, said the initial find in far western Queensland consisted of parts of 12 different turtles but that excavations were continuing. The fossils were taken to the museum for research into things like the ancient animals’ diets and why they appear to have resisted climate change.
“What are sea turtles related to? Are they threatened by things like climate change?” he asked.
“We’re just beginning to find out the basics and build information on the really big picture stuff.”
The sea turtle fossils are believed to be the oldest found since a single skeleton thought to be 115 million years old was discovered in Brazil in 1998.
“The earliest fossils we know come from Brazil and this consisted of a single skeleton – one skeleton – then about five million years later in the fossil record we get them in Australia,” Kear told ABC radio.
“But we don’t just get one – we get hundreds so what we’re looking at is a really, really good cross section of what is the earliest sea turtles in the world.” afp