During the late Cretaceous period in what is now the United States, the right half of the country was separated from the left by a body of water called the Western Interior Seaway stretching from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico. On the western side of that water was an island continent called Laramidia, which was populated by creatures including tyrannosaurs and giant duck-billed dinosaurs like Gryposaurus monumentensis.
It was also apparently inhabited by a strange turtle that had a pig-like snout that went extinct about 76 million years ago.
That's the finding of a team from the Natural History Museum of Utah who unearthed the never before seen creature in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"It's one of the weirdest turtles that ever lived," said Joshua Lively in a statement. Lively, who is now a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, studied the fossil as part of his master's thesis at the University of Utah. He described the new species in a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on Wednesday. "It really helps add to the story emerging from dinosaur research carried out at the Natural History Museum of Utah."
Unlike many turtle fossils that are found, which consists only of the skull and shell, the fossil of the pig-nosed turtle was surprisingly intact, containing the skull, shell, nearly complete forelimb, partial hind limbs, and vertebrae from the neck and tail.
From those remains, the researchers were able to conclude that the turtle was about two feet long and had a streamlined shell that was adapted for life in the rivers, bayous and flood plains in which it likely lived as back then, the area would have seemed more like present day Louisiana than Utah. The turtle also had that strange snout, which held two bony nasal openings, as opposed to just one as is common in other turtle species.
The turtle has been named Arvinachelys goldeni. The first word comes from arvina, Latin for pig fat or bacon, and chelys, Latin for tortoise. The second word is a nod to Jerry Golden, a volunteer at the Natural History Museum of Utah, who helped prep the fossil for study.