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AKIPRESS.COM - A newly discovered early turtle fossil from 228 million years ago is missing something crucial: its shell.
But in the long, intriguing tale of turtle evolution, turtles didn't always have it all -- shell included. This new species, found in China's Guizhou Province, did possess a toothless beak, another key turtle feature, CNN reported.
A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature details the discovery.
The species has been dubbed Eorhynchochelys sinensis, which translates to "dawn beak turtle from China," because it's essentially the first turtle to have a beak.
It had a Frisbee-shaped body with wide ribs, but those ribs didn't contribute to the formation of a shell like in modern turtles.
"This creature was over six feet long, it had a strange disc-like body and a long tail, and the anterior part of its jaws developed into this strange beak," said Olivier Rieppel, study co-author and paleontologist at Chicago's Field Museum, in a statement. "It probably lived in shallow water and dug in the mud for food."
Turtle evolution is complicated and difficult to piece together because their evolutionary track can't be compared to others'.
Other early turtles had a partial shell but no beak. Odontochelys, dating to 220 million years ago, had a protective shell on its underside but no upper shell, called a carapace. Pappochelys, which lived 240 million years ago, had a bony structure over the belly.Modern turtles have both a shell and a beak, but their evolution is more a zigzag than a straight line.
Eorhynchochelys, found nearly 25 feet beneath the sediments where Odontochelys was found, adds another piece to the puzzle.