Awkward Science Discovery of the Day: Fossilized Turtle Sex

Scientists in Germany have caught a pair of 50-million-year-old turtles in flagrante delicto.

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Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt

These turtle fossils represent one of nine mating pairs of the extinct turtle Allaeochelys crassesculpta found in a the Messel Pit, near Darmstadt in Germany.

Every living thing on earth has to go to the great beyond sometime, and 50 million years ago two turtles went out with a bang, so to speak. Scientists working in Germany have unearthed the first fossilized instance of copulating animals with backbones ever found in the fossil record. (Study hard, kids, and you can grow up to be scientists, too.)

Scientists made their discovery at the Messel Pit in Germany, according to MSNBC. The site was once home to a deep volcanic lake in a wet, tropical and, apparently, romantic environment. The research team was studying 47-million-year-old specimens of an extinct turtleAllaeochelys crassesculpta, when they found a pair of the unlucky reptiles who had apparently perished while having sex.

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The researchers, lead by Walter Joyce, a fossil turtle expert at the University of Tübingen in Germany, suspect the mating turtles died while mating some 50 million years ago, then sank, in flagrante delicto, to deeper layers of the lake where they perished due to deadly volcanic gases or other toxins in the lake’s lower layers. (Apparently turtles still exhibit this behavior to this day, according to MSNBC.)

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This is not to detract from the importance of the scientific discovery. “No other vertebrates have ever been found like these, so these are truly exceptional fossils,” Joyce said. “The chances of both partners dying while mating are extremely low, and the chances of both partners being preserved as fossils afterward even lower. These fossils show that the fossil record has the potential to document even the most unlikely event if the conditions are right.” Keep that in mind the next time you are feeling amorous.

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