A prehistoric pig-snouted turtle has been unearthed by paleontologists from the Natural History Museum in southern Utah, it has been reported on October 21.
The reptile fossil, estimated to be approximately 76 million years old, was identified in the Kaiparowits Formation, located in the desert of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The ancient skeleton is remarkably well-preserved, given the fact that the skull, complete forelimb, vertebrae, shell and partial hind limbs are still intact.
Currently, the fossil is being analyzed by a team of researchers led by doctoral student Josh Lively, at the University of Texas in Austin.
According to scientists, the species is unlike any others that have been encountered before, since normally turtles only have one bony opening as part of the nose. While they do have separate nostrils, those are actually soft-tissued.
In stark contrast, this prehistoric reptile, which was about 2 feet long, actually has 2 such bony openings, making its snout actually resemble that of a pig.
In fact, scientists have even humorously nicknamed the newly-identified freshwater turtle as “Miss Piggy”.
Even the species’ official name seems to have been given in jest, since “Arvinachelys goldeni” actually means “Golden’s bacon turtle”, which at the same time alludes to its pig-like appearance, and acknowledges the contribution of fossil preparator Jerry Golden.
Aside from its highly unusual nose, the Arvinachelys actually raises even more questions regarding its former habitat.
The fossil belonging to the extinct group called Baenidae was identified in an area where other ancient remnants were unearthed, such as those pertaining to the armored Ankylosaurus, the crested hadrosaur Parasaurolophus, the tyrannosaur Teratophoneus , the duck-billed Gryposaurus monumentensis and the horned Nasutoceratops.
These species were common in that area only, corresponding to the ancient continent of Laramidia, during the Cretaceous period, and greatly differ from other dinosaurs found elsewhere.
This suggests that back in prehistoric times, the region which stretched across what is now modern-day Utah may have been a rich ecosystem, with a wet and hot climate, and a multitude of animal species.
There are several theories speculating why the area was so biologically diverse. For example, some scientists believe that a reasonable explanation is the presence of a natural barrier, such as a mountain range or a river, which kept this wide array of species together.
Another popular hypothesis is that dinosaurs were greatly affected by climate changes, so they were forced to stay grouped in limited regions, which offered them their ideal habitat conditions.
For now, further research is being conducted in order to study the recently discovered fossil more carefully, and preliminary findings have been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Image Source: University of Utah