STL Science Center

STL Science Center

12 February 2013

The Scholarly Sea Turtle

This is clearly not an image of Archelon. It is one of the best images of a "scholarly turtle" that turns up on Google, in my opinion. Most scholarly papers on Archelon have the unfortunate distinction of being written prior to the internet days; in the first decade or so of the 20th century to be precise. Some more recent papers focus on growth and development of sea turtles and redescriptions of bones attributed to dinosaurs that actually are those of Archelon. I find, more interestingly, papers on turtle evolution (Kear and Lee) and paper/activities about proposed nesting structures of giant extinct turtles (Bishop).

Kear and Lee describe a primitive protostegid (ancient marine turtles) discovered in Australia and relate this new, basal, turtle to its descendents (note: descendant with an "a" refers to specific descending organisms whereas with an "e" at the end refers to derived groups descending from other groups). In terms of history and discussion pertaining to how animals such as Archelon came about and reigned in their respective turtle niches, this paper is quite good but also short at the same time meaning that it lacks some information; it is not an entirely in depth venture into turtle evolution.

Bishop's Archelon nesting proposal activity is a fun read that looks at analogous, we and Bishop hope, extant turtles such as Loggerheads. Bishop's discussion of extant turtle trackways (both Loggerhead and Leatherback) includes graphics to help illustrate the struggle up the beach for females; it allows for the imagination to envision Archelon trackways on a beach as well, I think. After a description of Archelon, mostly drawing from other sources, Bishop goes in to her rationale of how and why Archelon would have nested the way she says it would. The activities allow for others to draw their own conclusions about the exact nature of Archelon nesting habits; it is interactive science.

The activity included is interactive science at its best for schools. It shows living examples, describes and extinct species, and then encourages teachers and students to go out to a real beach and investigate and recreate what an Archelon female may have done out on the beach in order to crawl from the ocean, create an egg mound, lay eggs, cover them up, and then retreat back into the ocean. I know it is not a traditional scholarly paper, but I think the history in it warrants reading and the activity is well worth investigating with students, adult or child, in a museum outreach or for fun.

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