Mating turtles frozen in time fifty million years ago
2012-06-20 0:00


It is the first time fossils of vertebrates - animals with backbones that include ourselves - have been caught in the act.

Nine pairs of fossils - the females identified by their shorter tails - were found in a the Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany. It is believed the copulating couples were overcome by poisonous gas at the bottom of a volcanic crater.

Dr Walter Joyce, of the University of Tuebingen, Germany, said the turtles belonged to an extinct species known as Allaeochelys crassesculpta and anatomical evidence revealed each pair had a male and female member.

Their upper shell would have reached almost two feet in length and been more than a foot wide. Males had much longer tails protruding beyond the margin of the shell, whereas the females’ were short enough to remain inside.

Dr Joyce said: "We demonstrate for the first time all couples contain one male and one female individual and the tails of some males are aligned with those of the female."

It is believed volcanic gases were emitted from the lake from time to time and caused the death of many animals that lived in and around it which is why so many fossil vertebrates have been found in the sediment.

Dr Joyce, whose findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, said: "The behaviour of fossil organisms can typically be inferred only indirectly, but rare fossil finds can provide surprising insights.

"Here, we report numerous pairs of the fossil turtle Allaeochelys crassesculpta that represent for the first time among fossil vertebrates couples that perished during copulation.


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Image: "Nine pairs of fossils - the females identified by their shorter tails - were found in a the Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany." National News

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