Oldest marine turtle found in Colombia

by Mary Caperton Morton
Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Desmatochelys padillai. Credit: PaleoBios/ Cadena.

A 120-million-year-old sea turtle recently discovered in Colombia is about 25 million years older than the previously oldest-known marine turtle. Despite its age, the new 2-meter-long specimen is very similar to living marine turtles and was placed in the group Chelonioidea, which includes the modern Hawksbill turtle and green sea turtle.

Desmatochelys padillai is a fully adapted marine turtle based on the morphology of the skull, paddles and shell,” says Edwin Cadena, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and lead author of the new study, published in PaleoBios. Although it is not a transitional link between groups — land and ocean, for example — it tells us that fully marine large turtles were already living in the [newly opened] Atlantic Ocean approximately 120 million years ago." Whether modern sea turtles evolved from terrestrial turtles or other sea turtles has long puzzled scientists.

That the discovery was made in Colombia highlights a potential new resource for fossils, Cadena says. “Tropical regions, which traditionally have been considered poor areas for finding fossils due to dense vegetation, can produce interesting and almost complete fossils,” he says. “There are a lot of areas to explore [in South America] that haven’t been explored by paleontologists.”

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