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Extinct Turtles with Frog Face Sucked Preys, New Study Suggests

Extinct Turtles with Frog Face Sucked Preys, New Study Suggests

Saturday, 8 May, 2021 - 04:30
Green sea turtles are released to the sea from the Indonesia resort island of Bali, August 5, 2020, photo: Antara Foto/Nyoman Hendra Wibowo/Reuters

Paleontologists in Madagascar recently discovered an exceptionally well-preserved fossil of a new and extinct species of turtle, dating back to the late Cretaceous Period (from around 66 to 145 million years ago). The newly discovered species would have had a frog-like face and eaten by sucking in mouthfuls of prey-filled water.

The ancient turtle was a freshwater species endemic to Madagascar, with a shell length of around 10 inches (25 centimeters). It had a flattened skull, rounded mouth and large tongue bones, all of which would have made it a great suction feeder and given it an amphibian-like appearance. In a new study describing the species, the researchers named it Sahonachelys mailakavava, which means "quick-mouthed frog turtle" in Malagasy, the language spoken by Indigenous people of Madagascar.

Researchers unearthed the turtle's fossil in 2015 while searching for the remains of dinosaurs and crocodiles at a site on the island with a history of such finds. While removing the overburden — the typically bare layers of sediment above fossil-rich layers — the team was surprised to find bone fragments from a turtle's shell and eventually recovered an almost intact skeleton.

"The specimen is absolutely beautiful and certainly one of the best-preserved late Cretaceous turtles known from all southern continents. In all regards, this is an exceptionally rare find," lead author Walter Joyce, a paleontologist at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, told Live Science.

Sucking is a specialized mode of underwater feeding, during which the animal quickly opens its mouth and expands its throat to quasi-inhale a large volume of water, including the desired prey item, which would have included plankton, tadpoles and fish larvae, Joyce said.

Its flattened skull, mouth shape and delicate jaws are all telltale signs that this turtle used suction for feeding. Suction feeders do not have strong jaws, as they do not bite. The quick-mouthed frog turtles belonged to the Pelomedusoidea family, which includes living species such as South American and Madagascan river turtles.

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