Turtle’s shell is for protection
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.