125 million years ago, during an age known in geological time as the Barremian-Aptian, the Atlantic Ocean as we know it now was just a large bay. It began opening up as a consequence of the breaking of the ancient supercontinent Pangea. Vertebrates were very abundant in the northernmost part of South America at this time. Giant marine reptiles including Kronosaurus, plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and turtles hung around in the brand new tropical beaches and gulfs, fishing and using these areas for nesting.
A small town known as Villa de Levya, located two hours northeastern of Bogotá, Colombia, has the most complete preserved Barremian-Aptian vertebrates of South America. For almost a decade, a group of paleontologists and collectors from the Centro de Investigaciones Paleontológicas (CIP) have collected dozen of specimens that paleontologists have just started to study.
One of the new marine vertebrates from Villa de Leyva is an almost complete skeleton from a fossil turtle, including its head, shell, and limb bones. The new fossil turtle is being studied by Edwin Cadena, a Colombian vertebrate paleontologist recently graduated from North Carolina State University, with the support from the Paleontological Research Institution and other institutions. Preliminary results show that this is one of the most complete and largest Eucryptodiran turtles from the entire American continent. The new specimen is related to the Glenrosechelys genus known previously from the Albian of Texas; and shows similarities between the faunas from North and South America during the Early Cretaceous.
Cadena uses computer tomography to study the internal structure of the skull of the new turtle find.
Final results with details of the systematics paleontology, internal cranial structure using computer tomography, as well as the implications in terms of understanding the rising of other marine turtles, will be published by the end of this year.
Edwin Cadena was the 2012 recipient of the J. Thomas Dutro Jr. Student Award in Systematic Paleontology, awarded annually by Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New York, in recognition of important basic systematic paleontological research by a graduate student.
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