First gut contents in a Cretaceous sea turtle

  • Kear B
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Abstract

Modern sea turtles utilize a variety of feeding strategies ranging from herbivory to omnivory. In contrast, the diets of fossil sea turtles are poorly known. This study reports the first direct evidence: inoceramid bivalve shell pieces (encased in phosphatic material) preserved within the body cavities of several small protostegid turtles (cf. Notochelone) from the Lower Cretaceous of Australia. The shell fragments are densely packed and approximately 5-20 mm across. Identical shell accumulations have been found within coprolite masses from the same deposits; these are of a correct size to have originated from Notochelone, and indicate that benthic molluscs were regular food items. The thin, flexible inoceramid shells (composed of organic material integrated into a prismatic calcite framework) appear to have been bitten into segments and ingested, presumably in conjunction with visceral/mantle tissues and encrusting organisms. Although protostegids have been elsewhere interpreted as potential molluscivores, their primitive limb morphology is thought to have limited them to surface feeding. However, the evidence here that at least some forms were able to utilize benthic invertebrate prey indicates that, like modern sea turtles, protostegids probably exhibited a much broader range of feeding habits.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Australia
  • Cretaceous
  • Gut contents
  • Inoceramid bivalves
  • Protostegid turtles

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Authors

  • Benjamin P. Kear

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