Oldest beaked turtle fills evolutionary gap

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A fossilized skeleton of a turtle, dating back about 228 million years to the dawn of the dinosaur era, has been found in China, shedding new light on the earliest evolution of turtles.

This is the oldest turtle ever discovered with a toothless beak. The turtle, more than 2 meters long, with a short trunk, had no shell on its back and abdomen, said Li Chun, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Found from the late Triassic deposits of Guanling County in Guizhou Province, southwest China, it has been named Eorhynchochelys, meaning "first turtle with a beak," and featured in the latest issue of the academic journal Nature.

The turtle showed primitive, derived and transitional features, indicating a complexity in the early stage of turtle's evolution, Li said.

"Its skeleton suggested the turtle might have lived an amphibious life near estuary, and had a habit of digging holes," Li said.

Reviewers of Nature commented that the finding was extremely important as it closed a major gap in the evolution of turtle. 

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