Turtles were crawling around in their body armor long before the time of the dinosaurs, or at least their ancestors were, according to new research found in Current Biology. Though it was previously believed the turtle shell began forming 220 million years ago, the study of an older ancestor—a round-bellied South African reptile called Eunotosaurus—now dates the shell back another 40 million years, putting it before the Jurassic era to the Permian period, Discovery reports.
"Eunotosaurus is a good transitional fossil which bridges the morphological gap between turtles and other reptiles," lead author Dr. Tyler Lyson tells the BBC, adding that it took millions of years for the modern shell—a fusion of ribs, vertebrae and shoulder bones—to evolve. It was previously thought that Eunotosaurus could help explain the evolution, but the theory was thrown out in the 1960s, reports the Los Angeles Times. As attention returns to the extinct reptile, Lyson admits turtle evolution is "contentious. ... I'm sure I won't convince everybody, but I think it's a really good step forward." Click to find out how another hard-shelled creature is evolving today. (Read more turtles stories.)