Friday, November 21, 2008

New Aquatic Turtle Species Found in Scotland

With apologies for my long silence on this blog, I'm back with news of the discovery of a new species of aquatic turtle! Called Eileanchelys waldmaniare, this new species dates back 164 million years to the Middle Jurassic period. Turtle remains found on the Scottish Isle of Skye provided the basis for this discovery. After months of painstaking work extracting turtle skeletons from the rock in which they were embedded, four of the skeletons emerged nearly intact and represent the best specimens to date from this period.

Actually, in the past two years scientists uncovered two other new species from the mid-Jurassic era. Those came from Russia and Argentina. Previously, scientists hadn't known that aquatic turtles existed before the Late Jurassic period. Now they're able to date more accurately the period during which land turtles dating to 210 million years ago (in the Triassic era) evolved into water turtles. Differences in the turtles' skulls provides crucial information which distinguishes the two types. Since these turtles found in Scotland were in such remarkably good shape, they confirmed theories offered when the turtles in Russia and Argentina were discovered.

Scientists believe that the turtles found in Scotland lived in shallow bodies of fresh water. They base this theory on the geological qualities of the rock in which the fossils were found (shale and limestone containing layers of mud) and the fossils of sharks and salamanders found with the turtles.

Appropriately, the name Eileanchelys waldmaniare incorporates the Gaelic word "eilean" meaning "island." Translated, Eileanchelys waldmaniare means "the turtle from the island."

As keeper of two aquatic turtles, I'm thrilled to learn more about their ancestry. And as a fan of traditional Irish and Scottish music, I absolutely LOVE the fact that the new species has a Gaelic word rolled into its name!

This post highlights information from the sources listed below. Please click on the first two, as they contain some rather amazing copyrighted pictures which I know you'll enjoy.

(1) "
Ancient Turtle Discovered on Skye," BBC News website, 19 Nov 2008, as viewed online on 21 Nov 2008.
(2) "
Earliest Aquatic Turtles Found in Scotland," Natural History Museum (Tring, England) website, 19 Nov 2008, as viewed online on 21 Nov 2008.
(3) "A New Stem Turtle From The Middle Jurassic Of Scotland: New Insights On The Evolution And Palaeoecology Of Basal Turtles," PubMed, National Center for BioTechnology Information website, 18 Nov 2008, as viewed online on 23 Nov 2008.
(4) "A new, nearly complete stem turtle from the Jurassic of South America with implications for turtle evolution," PubMed, National Center for BioTechnology Information website, 23 Jun 2008, as viewed online on 23 Nov 2008.

(Scientists involved in the discovery of the Scotland turtles were associated with University College London (UCL) and the Natural History Museum in Tring (about 35 miles northwest of London). Their report has been published in the journal entitled "Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences." The Scotland turtle fossils are housed at the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. The project was funded by the National Geographic Society.)

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
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