Ancient plant fossils that initially had scientists scratching their heads have now been revealed to be something entirely different – the shells of baby turtles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs.
These small, rounded shapes, previously believed to be plant fossils, have been identified as the shells of turtles that roamed northwestern South America. Scientists have even named this species “Turtwig,” after a Pokémon character who is half turtle and half plant.
The discovery of the baby turtle shells in northwestern South America is a first, and the results of this new research were published Thursday in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.
The story of the fossils’ misidentification goes back decades, when Colombian priest Gustavo Huertas discovered them in the Paja Formation, near what is now the town of Villa de Leyva. At the time, he identified the specimens as a fossil plant, describing them as Sphenophyllum colombianum in a 2003 study.
Fast forward to the present day, and researchers Hector Palma-Castro and Fabiany Herrera have finally solved the mystery. After examining and photographing the fossils, they were able to determine that what once looked like plant veins were, in fact, thin bones that formed the shells of baby turtles.
The research team’s next goal is to discover the forests that once grew in the region, shedding light on the evolution of land plants during the Early Cretaceous period. According to the scientists, discoveries like this are “really special because they not only expand our knowledge about the past, but they open a window into the various possibilities of what we can discover.”