Morphological Variation in the Carapace and Plastron of Terrapenecoahuila Schmidt and Owens 1944

  • Robert W. BurroughsEmail author
  • Christopher J. Bell
  • Travis J. LaDuc
  • Dean A. Hendrickson
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


Terrapene coahuila is one of four extant species of North American box turtles. It is restricted in distribution to the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin in Coahuila, México. Results of previous examinations of extant T. carolina and T. ornata revealed relatively high levels of morphological variation, but morphological studies of T. coahuila are rare, and data on skeletal morphology are limited. We examined 214 skeletal specimens of T. coahuila and documented variation in 51 mensurative and discrete characters of the carapace and plastron. Overall levels of variation are low, as predicted by previously documented levels of gene flow between the sub-populations of the species. However, significant polymorphism is present in the positions of the anterior and posterior sulci of the fourth vertebral scute and the configuration of neural bones 2, 3, and 7. Additionally, co-ossification of the carapacial bones varies substantially within the sample, but independently of carapace length. Genetic, epigenetic, and environmental controls for those features are not known. In addition to documenting skeletal morphology within T. coahuila, we provide new perspectives on patterns of variation within Terrapene, and contribute data that should help paleontologists to establish more rigorous criteria for the identification of fossil specimens of North American box turtles. Those data will be especially important for critical evaluation of recently discovered early and middle Tertiary fossils that are yielding new insights into the evolution of box turtles and the modernization of the turtle biota.


Box turtle Cuatro Ciénegas Basin Emydidae Polymorphism Variation 



We gratefully acknowledge Jennifer Howeth for her efforts to collect and preserve skeletal specimens of Terrapene coahuila during her field research in Cuatro Ciénegas. Her research and, by extension, ours, was conducted under SEMARNAT permits 3054 and 5573, and CITES permits 072019 and 140459. At the time these specimens were collected Susana Moncada Díaz de León was Director of the Area Protegida de Fauna y Flora de Cuatro Ciénegas; she granted local permission to sample within the reserve, greatly facilitated coordination with landowners in the basin, and provided additional staff assistance in the field. We acknowledge Christopher Eckert for his efforts in collecting measurement data for our specimens. This chapter was improved substantially as a result of comments from our colleagues Robert Holmes, Chris Jass, and Walter Joyce; their careful reviews helped clarify our thinking and presentation. Whether he likes it or not, Gene Gaffney helped to inspire us in our continued efforts to understand the evolutionary history of emydid turtles, perhaps one of his least favored groups of Testudines.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Burroughs
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Bell
    • 1
  • Travis J. LaDuc
    • 2
  • Dean A. Hendrickson
    • 2
  1. 1.Jackson School of GeosciencesThe University of TexasAustinUSA
  2. 2.Texas Natural Science CenterThe University of TexasAustinUSA

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