How long have turtles been on earth? How did they look like in prehistoric time?

Written by Dr. Chan Eng Heng

Dr. Chan is a co-founder of TCS. She is a retired Professor who had spent more than 30 years studying marine turtles in the country.

25 Oct 2009

According to the latest available information, turtles been on earth for between 200-300 million years. That makes them very very ancient animals. In comparison, the evolution of humankind can be traced back to only 2.5 million years.

The oldest turtle fossil discovered to date was unearthed only as recently as 2007 in China’s Guizhou province. It was estimated to be 220 million years old, was an aquatic turtle and given the name Odontochelys semistestacea. The previous record-holder was a terrestrial turtle named Proganochelys, at least 10 million years more recent than Odontochelys semistestacea.

The latest find therefore suggests that the evolution of turtles occurred in water.

Odontochelys is very different from the modern turtle because it had a long, pointed snout lined with teeth. All modern-day turtles have sharp beaks and no teeth. Further, in Odontochelys only the plastron (lower shell) was fully formed while the carapace (top shell) was not.

A picture of Odontochelysis given above to let you have an idea of how prehistoric turtles look like.

You may also like…
Why do sea turtles return to the beach that they were hatched from?

Why do sea turtles return to the beach that they were hatched from?

Studies have discovered that female turtles demonstrate natal homing behaviour in that they always return to the exact location where they were hatched to mate and lay their own eggs whereas the male turtles almost never return to the same beach once they leave the sand of their natal beach.

Do sea turtles communicate among themselves?

Do sea turtles communicate among themselves?

Sea turtles do communicate but their communication is scarce as there is a lesser need to communicate between each other because most of them are solitary. Perhaps their communication is considered as adequate as they have survived millions of years until today.