Mating Turtles Fossilized in the Act
First fossils of copulating vertebrates may solve poisonous paleontology mystery.
"Just finding these couples is completely unique worldwide," lead study author Walter Joyce said. "There are no other vertebrate fossils to be found like this."
The turtle pairs were discovered in Messel Pit, a tropical lake turned Lagerstätten—paleontologist speak for a "really, really, really, spectacular place for fossils," according to Columbia University's Mark Norell.
The prehistoric lake somehow killed scores of animals, then preserved the bodies in volcanic sediment. From those sediments—long since turned to oil shale—nine suspected mating pairs of the Allaeochelys crassesculpta species have been recovered in the last 30 years.
By formally analyzing the fossil pairs for the first time, the study authors were able to determine once and for all that each couple was male-female, in