The carapace and plastron bones of fossil turtles are often characterized by bone modification features such as pits, grooves, and holes. The significance, origin, and frequency of these features remains unclear because they have not been described from the bones of modern turtles. Taxon-specific description and analyses of defleshed turtle shell is essential for assessing the paleoecological significance of bone modification features. This study focuses on bone modification features on carapace and plastron bones of the emydid turtle Trachemys scripta elegans. Four subadult and 14 adult turtle shells were examined for non-ontogenetic features such as pits, grooves, holes, wounds, abrasions, and pathological growth structures. Bone modification features were lacking on subadult specimens but observed on each adult. Shallow, circular to subcircular pits (similar to the ichnotaxon Karethraichnus lakkos), and to a lesser extent pit clusters, are the most common feature noted on T. scripta elegans shells. Although they occur on both the plastron and the carapace, they proved far more common on the lower shell. Sparsely distributed ring-shaped grooves similar to the ichnotaxon Thatchtelithichnus holmani were present on approximately half of the turtle plastra studied. Amorphous surface etching was observed on several turtles, most commonly near the plastron midline (posterior portion of the hyoplastron/anterior portion of the hypoplastron). Pathological responses to these marks are lacking, but were noted on two turtles in response to sustained injuries. The occurrence of circular and subcircular pits, pit clusters, and ring traces on the external surface of every adult turtle analyzed in this study (regardless of sex or geographical occurrence), their discrete size and shape, and the lack of evidence of a systemic pathological response by the host suggests parasites, possibly leeches, as the etiological agent responsible for these features.
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22 September 2022
THE OCCURRENCE OF BONE MODIFICATION FEATURES IN THE CARAPACE AND PLASTRON OF THE EXTANT RED-EARED SLIDER TRACHEMYS SCRIPTA ELEGANS (WIED-NEUWIED, 1839): IMPLICATIONS FOR PALEOECOLOGICAL ANALYSES OF FOSSIL TURTLE ASSEMBLAGES
William S. Bartels
Vol. 37 • No. 9
Vol. 37 • No. 9