Turtles fossilized while having sex
Talk about a long time coming. Nine turtle couples made history of sorts recently by being the first known specimens to be fossilized... while mating.
The nine couples likely died while mating and may have not been aware they were sinking into poisonous volcanic lake water 47 million years ago, Discovery News reported.
“Many animals enter a trance-like state when mating or laying eggs and it is possible that these turtles simply did not notice that they were entering poisonous waters before it was too late,” it quoted lead author Walter Joyce, a researcher at the University of Tübingen, as saying.
Source: Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt
“The Messel turtles are therefore the only vertebrate fossils known to have died while in the process of mating and this only happened because of the highly unusual circumstances of the lake in which they lived,” he added.
It added the turtle couples did not all die together, but instead were found at random at the site of the former lake.
Discovery News said the turtles "apparently died in the (throes) of passion," as described in the latest Biology Letters.
"While deeply engaged in copulation, they drifted into poisonous water and perished, forever preserved in their lovemaking moment," it said.
Joyce and his colleagues analyzed the fossils found in the Messel Pit Fossil Site between Darmstadt and Frankfurt, Germany.
The researchers, noting the tail shape and length differences, body size differences and other anatomical features, said each couple consisted of one male and one female.
“Millions of animals live and die every year and many enter the fossil record through serendipitous circumstances, but there really is no reason to enter the fossil record while you are mating,” Joyce said.
“After all, the chances of both partners dying at the same time is highly unlikely and the chances of both partners being preserved afterwards even less likely,” he added.
Discovery News said it is rare for any animal to die and be fossilized while engaged in a behavior.
It said other famous examples include fish that choked on large prey items and were later found fossilized in that moment.
"Certain dinosaurs died fighting or while brooding their nests. Such discoveries are invaluable to scientists because they reveal how animals behaved in the flesh, something that is normally just speculated upon," it said.
Copulation in the water
The researchers theorized the turtles initiated copulation in habitable water then may have gone into the intense “trance-like” state while sinking deeper into the lake.
By then, their skin probably started to absorb poisons from the volcanic gases or decay of organic matter.
The researchers added the mating pairs from Messel are consistent with a stratified, volcanic lake with mostly inhabitable waters and a deadly abyss.
James Parham, an aquatic biologist and hydrologist at the Bishop Museum, agreed with the new study’s conclusions.
“This is an excellent scientific treatment of some incredible fossil specimens,” he said.
Tyler Lyson, director and president of the Marmarth Research Foundation, also told Discovery News that he supports the new study.
“The argument is strong and the conclusions sound. We see similar sexual morphism in living turtles and the fact that there are so many pairs of turtles indicates they were copulating, sunk and died in the more anoxic waters,” he said. — TJD, GMA News
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