Asher J. Lichtig, Spencer G. Lucas, Hendrik Klein & David M. Lovelace (2017)
Triassic turtle tracks and the origin of turtles.
Historical Biology (advance online publication)
Turtle (Testudines) tracks, Chelonipus torquatus, reported from the early Middle Triassic (Anisian) of Germany, and Chelonipus isp. from the late Early Triassic (Spathian) of Wyoming and Utah, are the oldest fossil evidence of turtles, but have been omitted in recent discussions of turtle origins. These tracks provide significant clues as to how early the turtle Bauplan originated. Turtle trackways are quite distinctive: the manus and pes form tracks nearly parallel to the midline and indicate an unusually wide gait in which the trackway width is nearly equal to the stride length. These tracks do not fit what would be expected to be made by Triassic Pappochelys or Odontochelys, a supposed prototurtle and an early turtle, respectively. In contrast, these tracks are consistent with what would be expected from the Triassic turtles Proganochelys and Palaeochersis. The features inferred to be present in Triassic turtle tracks support the notion that Odontochelys is a derived aquatic branch of the turtle stem lineage rather than the ancestral state of all turtles. Chelonipus also resembles the Permian track Pachypes dolomiticus, generally assigned to a pareiasaur trackmaker. These revelations highlight the need to consider all available evidence regarding turtle origins, rather than just the body fossils.