Turtle Fossil

The recent discovery of an extinct turtle without an upper shell, Odontochelys semitestacea, has surprised both creationists and evolutionists. Photo by Chun Li.

Turtles are some of the most unique of God’s creatures. Their combination of shells, beaks, and limb structures may be the most unusual physical design among all vertebrates (their shoulder blade is actually inside their ribcage!). Turtle origins have always been a mystery to evolutionists, since all fossil turtles have looked, well, like turtles.

One new species discovered in China, Odontochelys semitestacae, is raising new questions about turtle origins.1 This new fossil is unusual in several ways, including teeth, a long tail, and only a lower shell. The upper shell is missing.

So, is this the “hero on an half-shell” for turtle evolution? While the authors who described the species believe that Odontochelys is proof of early turtle evolution, other researchers make a strong argument that it simply “turned off” its upper shell during embryonic development.2

Interestingly, modern soft-shelled turtles live in environments similar to the ones that Odontochelys occupied before the Flood. So both types of turtles are equipped with significantly lighter shells.

Though this fossil is surprising (even to creationists), it’s not so surprising that God gave different turtles similar solutions for particular ecological settings. Perhaps God created some turtles directly like this, or maybe He built this capability into some of the turtle “kinds” at creation.

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  1. C. Li et al., “An Ancestral Turtle from the Late Triassic of Southwestern China,” Nature 456:497–501. Back
  2. R. Reisz and J. Head, “Turtle Origins out to Sea,” Nature 456:450–453. Back