New research by Cal State Fullerton scientist James Parham reveals the oldest known sea turtles on record. How old? Over 120 million years old.
Parham and Edwin Cadena, a Colombian paleontologist who works at Naturmuseum Senckenberg in Germany, co-authored an article about their research published Sept. 7 in PaleoBios, a peer-reviewed journal by the University of California Museum of Paleontology. The article reports that the very old fossil sea turtles, whose scientific name is Desmatochleys padillai, from South America represent the oldest confirmed record of sea turtles anywhere in the world.
In addition to turtle fossils collected in the last few years, the study includes fossils collected in 1945, which are now housed at the museum. Parham, assistant professor of geological sciences, conducted his dissertation research at the museum, where he studied fossil sea turtles and their evolution and origins.
“I was familiar with the material at the museum, but it wasn’t until the new specimens from Colombia were discovered that it became apparent that these specimens were as old as they were,” said Parham, who also is the faculty curator of paleontology at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, a partnership between Cal State Fullerton and OC Parks.
The researchers’ work also examines sea turtle evolution and shows growing evidence that turtles invaded the sea multiple times during the age of dinosaurs.
“This study is important for understanding the evolution of sea turtles, but also is another example of the importance of museum specimens,” said Parham. “Our study demonstrates how fossils collected 70 years ago can make important contributions to our understanding of life on Earth.”