Ancient Turtle Used Its Snout Like a Straw When Feeding

Posted on January 30, 2014

Ocepechelon bouyai

An ancient turtle, Ocepechelon bouyai, that lived during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago) used its snout like a straw when feeding. Researchers say suction feeding is extremely rare for Mesozoic marine reptiles. A well preserved skull of the previously unknown turtle was recently found in Morocco. It measures 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) long. The turtle is described here in PLoS One.

The researchers say the turtle's snout shares some similarities with syngnathid fishes and beaked whales. They say the anatomy "suggests extreme adaptation for suction feeding unmatched among known turtles." The scientists think the narrow tubular shape of Ocepechelon's upper jaw means it probably performed small-gape suction with its mouth narrowly opened. This would have enhanced the suction force for attracting and ingesting the prey. The researchers say, "a small and circular mouth opening generates greater negative intraoral pressure than a laterally open and larger mouth."

Here is a simulation of the Ocepechelon feeding:

Image: Nathalie Bardet et. al./PLoS One

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