March 9th

Prehistoric Turtles

Turtles have used the shelled body plan to great effect over the past 220 million years. They’ve diversified into a wide range of forms while maintaining their signature coat of armor. This built-in shielding has kept them safe for millennia and shows no sign of weakness even in modern times. But turtles, like most things in the distant past, were far more interesting long ago.

Take Archelon, or ‘ruling turtle,’ for example. At 13 feet long and 16 feet across, this marine giant weighed close to 5,000 pounds. Archelon lived 80 million years ago and seems to have been adapted for feeding on mollusks and squid.

Archelon skeleton at Yale-Peabody Museum / Wikimedia Commons

Today’s largest turtle, the leatherback, is also an ocean-going sort. At 6 feet long and 1,500 pounds, it’s a very big animal, but compared to Archelon it seems tiny. But such is the magic of the Mesozoic, when all animals seem to be more fascinating. It’s a romantic fantasy shared by dinophiles the world over, but it’s rooted in the outstanding biological forms that existed during the age of dinosaurs.

We’ll look at a place where you can see that evolutionary history play out for the public in tomorrow’s post. Until then, share your favorite prehistoric turtle photos with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #TDIDinos.

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