Fossil Sea Turtle Skull donation
Phillips, Paleontology Curator
Sea turtle spotting is a always thrill on the Mississippi Coast, whether you are a biologist, turtle enthusiast, or a tourist. Majestic and graceful creatures, sea turtles are admired by all, and everyone seems interested in their conservation.
Five species are known to range in Mississippi coastal waters, but none are year-round residents-all five species migrating in and out (or around and within) the Gulf of Mexico and adjoining Caribbean. Occasionally sea turtles are spotted nesting [picture above], in which case they absolutely should not be disturbed. Dead sea turtles occasionally wash up on shore after storms, like this one found on Petit Boit Island in 2006 [picture].
As most Mississippians are well aware, Mississippi's fossil record is dominated by marine sediments laid down by a shallow sea that occupied the lower Mississippi River Valley for nearly 90 million years [picture]. Because of this, sea turtle fossils are not uncommon in our state. Specifically, fragments of sea turtle shells are regularly encountered-and rarely an associated shell is found [picture].
However, skulls, or parts thereof, are very rare because the many bones that compose a sea turtle's noggin are quite fragile and decompose and/or scatter relatively quickly in the days following death.
That said, a band of organized Mississippi fossil collectors-the North Mississippi Gem & Mineral Society (NGMS based out of Tupelo)-happened upon a nearly complete sea turtle skull in November of last year near West Point, Miss. NMGMS members Rebecca Vallarian and Nancy Roberts found it, carefully recovered it, and conveyed it to MDWFP's Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in February, whereupon MMNS paleontology curator George Phillips had the ~60 individual pieces reconstructed by mid-March [pictures].
Thank you for this specimen, Rebecca and Nancy! As MMNS's first fossil turtle skull ever, it makes a spectacular and valuable addition to the state fossil collection.