150 million-year-old turtle ‘pancake’ found in Germany

A flattened but mostly complete fossil dating to an area of the late Jurassic period was discovered in present-day Germany. This flattened specimen of Solnhofia Parsons is helping paleontologists to understand more about how reptiles developed and lived in shallow marine ecosystems. The discoveries were reported in a paper published this past July in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The very good preservation of the fossils in the layers of limestone can be explained by the environmental conditions at the time,” co-author and University of Tubingen paleoecologist Andreas Matzke stated in an announcement.

S. parsons was a resident of Bavaria, distinct from the region present. Around 150 million years back, the area in the south of Germany close to Munich was a tropical shallow archipelago with spongey reefs circling it. When animals such as S. parsons perished in these saline and low-oxygen lakes, the scavengers faced an arduous, if not impossible, time separating the remains of their victims and resulting in well-preserved fossils such as these turtle-shaped pancakes.

As shown by this example, the turtle’s hind and forelimbs legs are relatively small, which indicates that it was found near the shoreline. This is in contrast to modern sea turtles that have long flippers and reside in open waters.

“No Solnhofia individual with such completely preserved extremities has ever been described before,” study co-author and paleontologist from the University of Tubingen Felix Augustin stated in a statement.

The head of the turtle and its carapace (upper back) are also evidently found in fossils. S. parsons had a long, pointed beak and triangular heat approximately 3.5 inches wide.

“Solnhofia may have used its large head to crush hard food items such as shelled invertebrates, as we see in some modern turtles, but it does not mean these were exclusively forming its diet,” said co-author and University of Tubingen paleontologist Marton Rabi in an announcement.

The diamondback terrapin is the most modern-day ancestor to S. parsons. This salt-tolerant turtle sporting diamond patterns on its shell is found in brackish estuaries on the East Coast of the United States.

S. Parsons isn’t the only significant fossil found within the deposits of limestone in Solnhofen, just south of Nuremberg in the valley of Altmuhl. Paleontologists have discovered the remains that belong to sure of the first birds, called Archaeopteryx, and a variety of sea reptiles, such as pterosaurs. The area is also regarded as one of the best locations for Mesozoic fossils, which started around 250 million years ago. It existed until the end of dinosaurs around 65 million years ago.


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