The turtles living today don’t have teeth. Turtles have, of course, evolved from toothed ancestors, but it is also known from research on their developmental biology and from investigations of fossils that turtles lost their teeth a very long time ago. Up to now the “youngest” known toothed turtle lived about 190 million years ago, at the beginning of the Jurassic era, when the dinosaurs had just emerged from their evolutionary adolescence, and the primeval super continent Pangaea had just begun to break apart. At that time, turtles already had been established members of a prosperous paleofauna.
Recently, however, an international research team including scientists from the University of Tübingen, Germany, discovered a considerably younger toothed turtle fossil in the Chinese desert province of Xinjiang. This animal lived about 160 million years ago in the outgoing Jurassic, which was the first real flowering period of the dinosaurs. Despite that developing a toothed mouth into a sharp beak occured much earlier in the evolution of turtles, this new fossil turtle showed genuine teeth in its palate, 30 million years more recently than previously discovered fossils. This discovery led to the animal’s scientific name Sichuanchelys palatodentata, which literally means “Sichuan Basin turtle with the toothed palate”.