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New fossil sea turtle trackway morphotypes from the Pleistocene of South Africa highlight role of ichnology in turtle paleobiology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019

Martin G. Lockley*
Affiliation:
Dinosaur Trackers Research Group, Campus Box 144, University of Colorado Denver, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, Colorado 80217-3364, USA
Hayley C. Cawthra
Affiliation:
African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, P.O. Box 77000, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa Marine Geoscience Unit, Council for Geoscience, P.O. Box 572, Bellville 7535, South Africa
Jan C. De Vynck
Affiliation:
African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, P.O. Box 77000, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa
Charles W. Helm
Affiliation:
African Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, P.O. Box 77000, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, Box 1540, Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia V0C 2W0, Canada
Richard T. McCrea
Affiliation:
Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, Box 1540, Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia V0C 2W0, Canada
Ronel Nel
Affiliation:
Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth 6031, South Africa
*
*Corresponding author at: e-mail address: martin.lockley@ucdenver.edu (M.G. Lockley).

Abstract

More than 130 late Pleistocene trackway sites from the coastal eolianites and beach deposits of the Cape south coast, South Africa, have previously mostly yielded tracks of large mammals and birds. However, two sites east of Still Bay, and a third near Garden Route National Park, yield distinctive trackways of hatchling sea turtles, made during the short posthatching (postemergence) interval when the trackmakers headed for the sea. One assemblage of approximately parallel trackways indicates smaller loggerhead turtle hatchlings, with alternating gaits, and contrasts with a wider trackway indicating a leatherback turtle hatchling. These are the world's first reports of fossil traces that document this brief “run-for the-sea” phenomenon. They help delineate late Pleistocene sea turtle breeding ranges and indicate climatic conditions along the Cape south coast. Ichnotaxonomically defined swim tracks of large adult sea turtles are known from a few Mesozoic sites. Likewise, walking and swim traces of terrestrial freshwater turtles are also known from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. However, as no ichnotaxonomy exists for these diagnostic hatchling trails, we assign the trackways of the inferred loggerheads to the new ichnotaxon Australochelichnus agulhasii ichnogen. et ichnosp. nov., and the inferred leatherback trackway to Marinerichnus latus ichnogen. et ichnosp. nov.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2019 

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