New research by Dr. Jordan Mallon, Canadian Museum of Nature, and Dr. Don Brinkman, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, introduces a new species of Basilemys turtle, Basilemys morrinensis. The species name honours the village of Morrin, Alberta for its role in the discovery of the specimen.
Basilemys was a large, terrestrial turtle over one metre long. Previous research indicates that Basilemys was an herbivorous turtle, living in terrestrial habitats and eating tough plants. Although it had a lifestyle similar to living tortoises, it is not a member of that group.
As a boy, Elmer Hiller discovered the specimen in 1924, in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation near Morrin. It was the first complete shell of Basilemys known from this geological formation, making it a significant discovery.
From 1910 – 1930, there was an increased interest in palaeontology as fossil hunters rushed to Alberta to secure important finds. Concerned over the amount of fossils leaving Canada in the hands of American collectors, the Geological Survey of Canada hired Charles H. Sternberg and his three sons to collect fossils for Canadian research.
One of his sons, Charles M. Sternberg, collected Basilemys morrinensis in 1924. The specimen was then shipped to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa where it remained in its collection for over 90 years until it was prepared recently. B. morrinensis is about 71 million years old and fills a gap in the scientific documentation of the evolution of this group of turtles.
Basilemys morrinensis suggests that there is much more to learn about these turtles. This specimen provides the first evidence that this type of turtle reached a typical large size of over a metre long in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation. Usually, Basilemys is considered a terrestrial turtle based on the size of its skull and limbs, but the low profile of the shell of B. morrinensis is a feature that indicates an aquatic lifestyle. Future research on Basilemys morrinensis and other turtles will give more insight into the lifestyle of these reptiles.