The transition from terrestrial to marine environments by secondarily aquatic tetrapods necessitates a suite of adaptive changes associated with life in the sea, e.g., the scaleless skin in adult individuals of the extant leatherback turtle. A partial, yet exceptionally preserved hard-shelled (Pan-Cheloniidae) sea turtle with extensive soft-tissue remains, including epidermal scutes and a virtually complete flipper outline, was recently recovered from the Eocene Fur Formation of Denmark. Examination of the fossilized limb tissue revealed an originally soft, wrinkly skin devoid of scales, together with organic residues that contain remnant eumelanin pigment and inferred epidermal transformation products. Notably, this stem cheloniid—unlike its scaly living descendants—combined scaleless limbs with a bony carapace covered in scutes. Our findings show that the adaptive transition to neritic waters by the ancestral pan-chelonioids was more complex than hitherto appreciated, and included at least one evolutionary lineage with a mosaic of integumental features not seen in any living turtle.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Evolutionary Biology