Tur­tle’s shell is for pro­tec­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - JBJ RE­PORTER

WHY does the tur­tle have a shell? It sounds like a ques­tion by Dr Seuss and the an­swer seems easy – for pro­tec­tion.

But things are not al­ways ob­vi­ous. For ex­am­ple, the feather was not orig­i­nally used for flight. Early rel­a­tives of birds such as tyran­nosaur di­nosaurs had feath­ers that def­i­nitely were not for fly­ing.

And long ago the tur­tle shell was a par­tial shell and was used for dig­ging un­der­ground to es­cape the harsh South African en­vi­ron­ment. This early shell was a form of the rib bones an­i­mals and peo­ple have.

A group of sci­en­tists from around the world, in­clud­ing from the Evo­lu­tion­ary Sci­ence In­sti­tute at Wits Univer­sity in Jo­han­nes­burg, took a look at why the tur­tle grew a shell. Dr Tyler Lyson of the Den­ver Mu­seum of Na­ture and Sci­ence said: “Ribs are gen­er­ally pretty bor­ing bones. The ribs of whales, snakes, di­nosaurs, hu­mans, and pretty much all other an­i­mals look the same. Tur­tles are the one ex­cep­tion, where they are highly mod­i­fied to form most of the shell.”

The sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that long ago tur­tles needed wider and wider ribs to go un­der­ground by ex­am­in­ing the skele­tons of sev­eral very old, par­tially shelled early proto tur­tles. Th­ese re­mains were 260 mil­lion years old and were found in the Ka­roo area.

A new fos­sil of the Proto Tur­tle, Euno­to­saurus, dis­cov­ered by then 8-year-old Kobus Sny­man on his fa­ther’s farm in the Ka­roo.

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