NYIT Scientist Researches Missing Link in Turtle Evolution

September 2, 2015

A research team led by NYIT scientist Gaberiel Bever, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy in NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine, has determined that a 260-million-year-old fossil species found in South Africa’s Karoo Basin provides a long-awaited glimpse into the murky origin of turtles.

Bever describes the extinct reptile, named Eunotosaurus africanus, as the earliest known branch of the turtle tree of life.

Eunotosaurus is a critical link connecting modern turtles to their evolutionary past,” said Bever. “This is the fossil for which science has been searching for more than 150 years. You can think of it as a turtle before turtles had a shell.”

While Eunotosaurus lacks the iconic turtle shell, its extremely wide ribs and distinctively circular torso are the first indications that this fossil represents an important clue in a long unsolved mystery: the origin of turtles.

In a new study published in Nature, Bever and his colleagues from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Yale University, and the University of Chicago describe how the complex anatomy of the Eunotosaurus skull houses convincing evidence of the creature’s important role in the deep history of turtle evolution.

Coming soon on The Box, Bever discusses his research, the use of digital dissection technology that enabled this critical finding, and unanswered questions he plans to explore in new studies.