Imagine Miss Piggy getting together with one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now imagine that happening 76 million years ago.
It's a rather bizarre thought, a pig and a turtle combination. But fossils recently discovered in Utah indeed show that a pig-snouted turtle existed millions of years ago. Scientists have seen nothing like it in the 250-million-year evolution of the amphibian.
"It's one of the weirdest turtles that ever lived," said Joshua Lively, said in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. "It really helps add to the story emerging from dinosaur research carried out at the Natural History Museum of Utah."
The turtle existed during the Cretaceous Period about 76 million years ago, when Utah looked more like the bayous of Louisiana, and was part of a group of creatures called baenids. The distinctive nose, which had two openings instead of the normal one, made this fossil stand out.
"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 told USA Today. "It was bizarre."
The new species has been dubbed Arvinachelys goldeni, from the Latin arvina for pig fat or bacon, and chelys, Latin for tortoise. The final part recognizes Jerry Golden, a volunteer fossil preparator at the Natural History Museum of Utah, who prepared the new holotype specimen.
What makes this find so significant, besides the snout, is that more that just a skull or shell were found. This specimen had the skull and the shell, as well as a nearly complete forelimb, partial hindlimbs, and vertebrae from the neck and tail. The find will help fill in the gaps of what scientists know about turtles.
"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, curator of paleontology at the museum and associate professor at the University of Utah.