SCIENCE

Ancient Fossil Of Bizarre Pig-Snouted Turtle Unearthed In Utah

"It’s one of the weirdest turtles that ever lived."

World, meet Arvinachelys goldeni -- a bizarre pig-snouted turtle that lived about 76 million years ago.

"It’s one of the weirdest turtles that ever lived," said Joshua Lively, who described the new species in a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology this week.

An artist&rsquo;s depiction of the turtle<i> Arvinachelys goldeni.&nbsp;</i>Researchers say the&nbsp;creature&nbsp;is unlike
An artist’s depiction of the turtle Arvinachelys goldeni. Researchers say the creature is unlike any other known turtle. 

The reptile is said to be "unlike any turtle ever found." While all other known turtle species have just one external nasal opening in their skulls, with a fleshy division between the nostrils, the broad snout of the Arvinachelys goldeni has two bony nasal openings.

"I've seen a lot of turtle skulls, and my initial impression was that looked very different that any other turtle skull I've seen," Lively, who studied the fossil as part of his master’s thesis at the University of Utah, told USA Today. "It was bizarre."

Snout view of the skull of the fossil turtle <i>Arvinachelys goldeni</i> with its shell in the background.
Snout view of the skull of the fossil turtle Arvinachelys goldeni with its shell in the background.

The pig-nosed turtle -- whose scientific name derives from arvina, a Latin word for pig fat -- is believed to have gone extinct about 42 to 45 million years ago.

The animal lived alongside tyrannosaurs, armored ankylosaurs, and giant duck-billed dinosaurs such as Gryposaurus and Parasaurolophus, according to a University of Utah news release. 

The creature, which measures about two feet from head to tail, lived in an era known as the Cretaceous Period, when southern Utah is said to have looked more like Louisiana with a great many rivers, and a wet and hot climate.

As Discovery News notes, the unique fossil may provide scientists crucial insight into turtle evolution.

While fossils of ancient turtle species have tended to be very incomplete, the pig-nosed specimen includes not only skull and shell, but also a nearly complete forelimb, partial hindlimbs, and vertebrae from the neck and tail.

"With only isolated skulls or shells, we are unable to fully understand how different species of fossil turtles are related, and what roles they played in their ecosystems," said Randall Irmis, associate professor at the University of Utah, per the release.

CONVERSATIONS