Mesozoic turtle reconstructed

Nov 25, 2013 by Jon Tennant, The Conversation
Manners please: Eating eating fish with straw? Credit: PLOS ONE

During the Mesozoic Era, between 252m and 66m years ago, the seas were ruled by a vast and intriguing array of reptiles. The most common ones were crocodiles (adapted to swimming in oceans), plesiosaurs (Loch Ness monster wannabes) and ichthyosaurs (over-sized predatory tuna).

But turtles also existed. They adopted marine lifestyle later, when a group called Chelonioidea got really big and decided to take to the seas. Now, in a new study published in PLOS ONE, researchers have found a new turtle from that era. It has been named Ocepechelon bouyai and is known from a rather exquisitely preserved skull from the Late Cretaceous period found in Morocco.

The skull is unique and reveals some unusual things. First, this turtle is much bigger compared to its modern relatives. Second, O. bouyai has its nose-slits and eye sockets placed on the top of its head, just like modern crocodiles have theirs, which they use to hunt close to the surface.

The most striking thing about O. bouyai is that it had a bony pipette-like snout. The snout does not have any teeth, which means the only way O. bouyai fed itself was by using the snout like a straw. Suction feeding is a quite widely used form of feeding in fish and amphibians. But among animals with four limbs, it is almost unique.

Credit: PLOS One

Given the size of its mouth, we can infer the maximum prey size. So O. bouyai most likely fed on small fish, squid or jellyfish. It would do this, in a similar manner to beaked whales, by creating a depression within its skull (particularly a region called the buccopharyngeal cavity), which would create suction force and drag water and prey into its tubular mouth.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

We find this structure in animals as different as seahorses and beaked whales, showing widespread convergent evolution to take advantage of a unique and specialised way of feeding in the seas. In these animals the part that creates suction is made of soft tissue, however, which has not been preserved. O. bouyai is truly unique though because its buccal tunnel is formed from the bones.

The turtle that ate with a straw
Reconstruction based on fossil. Credit: C. Letenneur

Explore further: Open wide: Zebrafish fool fast food

More information: "A Giant Chelonioid Turtle from the Late Cretaceous of Morocco with a Suction Feeding Apparatus Unique among Tetrapods," Nathalie Bardet mail, Nour-Eddine Jalil, France de Lapparent de Broin, Damien Germain, Olivier Lambert, Mbarek Amaghzaz. Published: Jul 11, 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063586

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ancient crocodiles ate like killer whales

Sep 19, 2012

(—Crocodiles are often thought of as living fossils, remaining unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. But scientists have shown this is not always the case and that 150 million years ago, their ...

Open wide: Zebrafish fool fast food

Nov 14, 2013

Research published in the Royal Society Journal, Interface, has demonstrated that predatory fish sneak up on lightning-fast prey by disguising water disturbances as they approach.

Recommended for you

Seeing dinosaur feathers in a new light

3 hours ago

Why were dinosaurs covered in a cloak of feathers long before the early bird species Archaeopteryx first attempted flight? Researchers from the University of Bonn and the University of Göttingen attempt ...

Mexico archaeologists explore Teotihuacan tunnel (Update)

18 hours ago

A yearslong exploration of a tunnel sealed almost 2,000 years ago at the ancient city of Teotihuacan yielded thousands of relics and the discovery of three chambers that could hold more important finds, Mexican ...

Peruvian dig reveals sacrificial mystery

Oct 29, 2014

Tulane University physical anthropologist John Verano has spent summers in Peru for the last 30 years, digging for ancient bones and solving their secrets. But his most recent work focuses on a unique archeological ...

Phaistos Disk may be prayer to mother goddess

Oct 27, 2014

Ancient writing systems and their meanings absorb scientists who dedicate years of work to deciphering and sorting through arguments to determine the true meaning and purpose of writings. The latest news ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.