Bizarre endangered pig-nosed turtle thought to have arrived in Australia recently has been here at least FIVE MILLION years
- Five million-year-old pig-nosed turtle fossil found near Melbourne far from home
- The endangered species was thought to be only a few thousand years old
- Scientists say the find could rewrite the evolutionary history of pig-nosed turtles
- The discovery could also help in understanding climate change in Australia
The pig-nosed turtle fossil was found during the 1920s in Beaumaris, thousands of kilometres south of where the endangered species lives.
The turtles, which were originally thought to have arrived a few thousand years ago, are usually found in tropical freshwater habitats in Australia and New Guinea.
The pig-nosed turtle fossil (pictured) was found in the 1920s in Beaumaris, thousands of kilometres south of where the endangered species typically reside
But now, a study lead by scientists from Monash University in collaboration with Museums Victoria has completely rewritten the evolutionary existence of the pig-nosed turtle.
‘Almost the entire evolutionary history of Pig-nosed turtles occurred in the northern hemisphere, with their present limited occurrence on the northern margin of Australia,’ said lead study author Dr James Rule from Monash University.
The endangered species, thought to be the sole survivors of an extinct group of tropical turtles – known as carettochelyids – that once inhabited the Northern Hemisphere.
‘The discovery of a five million-year-old Pig-nosed turtle fossil in Beaumaris changes this picture entirely,’ he said.
‘This one fossil specimen reveals a previously unknown evolutionary history of tropical turtles in Australia, and suggests we still have much to learn about the endangered pig-nosed turtle.’
The finding could unlock a broader migration pattern of the endangered species after the fossil appeared on the wrong side of the continent.
A study lead by scientists from Monash University in collaboration with Museums Victoria has completely rewritten the evolutionary existence of the pig-nosed turtle (pictured, the pig-nosed turtle fossil in comparison to a modern pig-nosed turtle shell)
Scientists say the climate in Melbourne was much warmer five million years ago and housed more turtles that usually live in the tropics today.
‘Climate change in the last few million years eliminated these tropical habitats, leaving the northern Australasian Pig-nosed turtles as sole survivors,’ Dr Rule said.
‘Our discovery provides key insights into ancient climate change shaping modern species distribution.’
This latest discovery highlighted the importance of the Beaumaris site, where fossils can be found by simply strolling along the beach.
‘We are so lucky in Melbourne to have such fossils right here in our own backyard,’ said Dr Erich Fitzgerald, a senior curator of vertebrate palaeontology at Museums Victoria and co-author of the paper.
‘The fossils at Beaumaris still have so much to teach us about our past, present and future.’