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Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Angielczyk’

“How did the turtle get its shell?” asks Carolyn Y. Johnson in the Globe.

“A group of scientists at Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution argue that a reptile fossil that has been gathering dust in museum collections is actually a turtle ancestor, and that its reduced number of ribs, distribution of muscles, and T-shaped ribs could help settle the question once and for all.

“In a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, they unveil the argument that a 260 million-year-old creature called Eunotosaurus africanus was a turtle ancestor, hoping to help resolve a debate that has split the scientific community for decades. …

“The ink spilled so far has roughly divided the scientific community in two camps. On one side are those who believe that the turtle shell came about as external bony scales, similar to the ones found on armadillos or certain lizards, that eventually fused together with the reptile’s internal rib cage. On the other side are those who believe that reptiles’ ribs instead began to broaden until they eventually formed the bony protrusion that is the shell, mirroring the way that turtles develop in the egg.”

Which theory does the 260-million-year-old Eunotosaurus support? Read up.

“ ‘The results are pretty convincing; previously I was skeptical as to whether Eunotosaurus was a likely relative of turtles,’ [Kenneth Angielczyk, a paleobiologist from the Field Museum in Chicago], wrote in an e-mail. ‘But Tyler [Lyson]’s results make me think it is a plausible idea.’  ”

Scientists clearly have a lot of fun, but let me try a more Kipling-esque approach to the turtle question.

When the world was new, Oh, Best Beloved, the Turtle was a small, soft creature who played all day with other small, soft turtles on the banks of the great gray greasy Limpopo River all set about with Giant Eucalyptus Trees. He was timid. He was shy. He kept his distance from the great beasts of the jungle. But he was watchful, too, and he learned from what he saw. And so it happened, Oh, Best Beloved, that at the very day, hour, and minute that the Giant Python Rock Snake stretched out the stumpy nose of the Elephant’s Child, the Turtle felt a great fear come upon him. And he ran and rolled himself in the grease of the greasy Limpopo River all set about with Giant Eucalyptus Trees, raced to the most gigantic of the Giant Eucalyptus Trees, embedded his sticky self in the most gigantic of the Giant Eucalyptus Trees seeds, and there remained.

When he felt brave enough to stick his head out, he reported to all the small, soft turtles what he had seen. And thus the world gained not only a Turtle with a Shell, but the very first embedded reporter.

Photo: Luke Norton
This South African sideneck turtle bears a structural resemblance to the fossil of a creature called Eunotosaurus africanus.

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