Friday 17 November 2017

PrehiScotInktoberfest Day 17: Eileanchelys waldmani & Friends

Time for PrehiScotInktoberfest 17! Still in the sea, but now on to the familiar Triassic period. While much of the fossilised marine life on Skye is coastal, there is evidence of freshwater-dwellers too: this suggests Scotland, like much of Europe, was archepelagic, thousands of islands and lagoons bordering the ancient Tethys Ocean.

Centre stage in this image is Eileanchelys waldmani ("Waldman's Island Turtle") With a 25-30cm/10-12inch long shell, Eily used to be a contender, man. Back in 2008, it was considered that a missing link between the proto-tortoises of the Triassic and the more modern sea turtles of the Cretaceous, exemplified by the colossal Archelon. Alas, mere weeks after Eily was announced to the world, Chinese palaeontologists pushed their collective glasses up their noses, clearing their throats, & declaring; "AAAACTUALLY, we've just discovered a turtle that's 50 million years older. Even so, while Odontochelys is the new record-holder, Eileanchelys may still lay claim to fame as the oldest marine turtle yet discovered.

Given chelonians' leisurely pace, many modern animals are known to hitch rides on them - lizards, birds, and small mammals on tortoises; octopi, starfish, crustaceans, fish, and remoras on turtles. So, a bit of whimsy inspired by fact. The spooked reptile clutching Eily's dorsal shell is a juvenile Cteniogenys ("Scaly Origin"), a choristodere - a curious family of semi-aquatic reptiles, sometimes known as "paracrocodiles." Ctenio is a bit small for a choristodere, which would make it a target for some of the bigger beasties: the beastie would have nothing to fear from herbivorous Eily.

Looming menacingly in the background is Acrodus ("High Tooth"), a bottom-feeding shark found in sites all across the world. While the size would undoubtedly startle Ctenio, Acro most likely ate crunchier fare: its teeth were more suited to crustaceans and other shellfish. As well as its teeth, Acro was distinguished by its tiny stubby "horns," and the spines on the front of its two dorsal fins.

"Is the big fish gone?"

"Fur the lest time, ye wee feartie, he anely eats clams."

"Ah'm naw takin' ony chances."

"Weel dae it awa' frae me. Noo get aff!"


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