Taphonomy of Extant Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agasinii) and Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Carette caretta) Nesting Sites: Implications for Interpreting the Fossil Record
Jackson, Frankie D.
Varricchio, David J.
Jackson, Robert A.
Walde, Andrew D.
Bishop, Gale A.
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Dinosaur reproductive biology is often inferred from the biology of extant taxa; however, taphonomic studies of modern nest sites have focused exclusively on avian, rather than reptilian species. We documented eight Agassiz's desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) nests and ten loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nests. Gopherus agassizii excavated burrows up to 70 cm long and laid rigid-shelled eggs 10–12 cm below the burrow floor. The 19 cm × 12 cm depressions consisted of hard consolidated sand surrounded by a 3–4-cm-high rim and contained 2–5 hatched eggs in a single layer. These hatched egg bottoms represent ∼ 25% of the original egg, and five of 27 contained fully developed dead neonates. Desiccated membrane separated from the egg interior forming pockets that filled with eggshell and sand. Of 106 and 79 eggshell fragments in the hatched egg and surrounding sand, 48% and 23% occurred concave up, respectively. However, the combined numbers of eggshell fragments inside the eggs and in the immediately surrounding sand approximates the 60∶40 ratios at in situ avian nests. Therefore, this ratio may provide reliable evidence for hatching sites regardless of the incubation strategy employed by the adult. Caretta caretta nests differed from those of tortoises in their greater depth (∼ 50 cm) and occurrence in moist, cohesive sand. Clutches contained over 100 pliable-shelled eggs that tore and collapsed upon hatching, without brittle fracture. Failed eggs in two clutches showed five development stages, indicating that the deaths occurred over an extended time period. With the exception of predation, the G. agassizii and C. caretta nests showed no significant eggshell or hatched eggs above the egg chamber.
Jackson, Frankie D., David J. Varricchio, Robert A. Jackson, Andrew D. Walde, and Gale A. Bishop. "Taphonomy of Extant Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agasinii) and Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Carette caretta) Nesting Sites: Implications for Interpreting the Fossil Record." Palaios 30 (May 2015): 207-223. DOI:https://dx.doi.org/10.2110/palo.2014.048 .