Home Science A “fossil plant” turns out to be a petrified baby turtle

A “fossil plant” turns out to be a petrified baby turtle

A “fossil plant” turns out to be a petrified baby turtle

In an unexpected twist, researchers rediscover that what was thought to be a fossil plant was actually a fossilized baby turtle nicknamed “Turtwig.”

In the 1950s to 1970s, a Colombian priest, Father Gustavo Huertas, collected rocks and fossils near Villa de Leyva and misclassified two specimens as fossil plants based on their appearance. However, a recent study in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica found that these fossils were not plants, but rather the fossilized remains of baby turtles. Héctor Palma-Castro, a paleobotany student at the National University of Colombia, expressed surprise at the discovery.

The fossils, originally described in 2003 as Sphenophyllum colombianumdate back to the early Cretaceous period, 132 to 113 million years ago. Fabiany Herrera from the Field Museum in Chicago and her student Palma-Castro noticed unusual properties that did not correspond to those of a plant when they looked closely at the fossils.

Upon detailed analysis, Herrera suspected that the lines in the fossils might be bones, not plant veins. He contacted Edwin-Alberto Cadena, a paleontologist specializing in turtles at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, who confirmed that the fossils appeared to be the shell of a newborn turtle.

Further examination revealed that the fossils did not have the typical markings on the outside of a turtle’s shell. Cadena and his student Diego Cómbita-Romero determined that the fossils were the inner part of the shell of a young turtle, probably in a post-hatching stage between ages 0 and 1 year.

This discovery is significant because of the rarity of finding fossilized baby turtles. Cadena pointed out that these specimens could be relatives of other species of chalk turtles that reached up to fifteen feet in length.

The study also highlights the importance of re-examining historical collections in Colombia and highlights the need for deeper research on Early Cretaceous paleobotany, particularly flowering plants and gymnosperms. The project was supported by the National Geographic Society and the Field Museum’s Negaunee Integrative Research Center.


A Sphenophyllum from the Early Cretaceous or a young turtle?

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