Talk about having a bad day… fossilized turtles caught in the act – yes, the act of having sex. Researchers can only speculate, but one possibility of a death trap during copulation was when the mating turtles were caught as they sank to deeper layers of the lake nearly 50 million years ago. The lake’s deep layers may have held deadly volcanic gases or other toxins.
The fossils were discovered at the Messel Pit in Germany which once was a deep volcanic crater lake in a wet, tropical environment. It has become the richest site in the world for understanding the living environment of the Eocene, the epoch between 57 million and 36 million years ago when mammals began conquering the planet. Other animals discovered there include early horses, reptiles, primates, honeybees, giant ants and countless birds and bats.
Researchers focused on 47-million-year-old specimens of an extinct turtle (Allaeochelys crassesculpta) found at the pit. These were rather small turtles, about 20 centimeters (8 inches) long.
Ancient Turtle Sex
The researchers analyzed nine pairs of the turtles. Each pair was apparently made up of a male and a female — the females are slightly larger than males, have shorter tails and apparently had a hinged lower shell that may have helped them lay large eggs.
In addition, the turtles in each pair always had their rear ends oriented toward one another. Finally, in two of the pairs the tails of the partners are aligned with each other. This is the very position in which the tails are held when living turtles mate. “This observation is the true smoking gun,” says lead researcher Walter Joyce, a fossil turtle expert at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
Today, turtles often begin the act of sex in open waters but frequently sink during copulation hence the theory of both instantaneously dying when they sank to a toxic level of volcanic gases.
For future reference, if you and your honey are getting lucky while swimming in a volcanic lake — stay near the surface, or you two may become the next set of fossils caught while making the two backed beast.
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