The Evolution of the Turtle Shell

  • Olivier RieppelEmail author
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


This chapter traces the history of the debate on the evolution of the turtle shell, and carries the analysis of the origin of the turtle carapace forward from two complementary perspectives, viz. paleontology and developmental biology. Two alternative approaches to morphological analysis—the transformationist and the emergentist—are identified. The transformationist approach seeks to understand morphological evolution as a consequence of the gradual, step-wise transformation of the adult phenotype. The emergentist approach allows for ontogenetic deviation to result in the development of evolutionary novelties. The discovery of the so far oldest and most primitive turtle known, from the early Late Triassic of southwestern China, provides the basis for a synthesis of paleontological and developmental data in the understanding of the evolutionary origin of the turtle shell.


Carapace Dermal bone Dermochelys Membrane bone Odontochelys 



I thank Anne Burke, Robert L. Carroll, Hiroshi Nagashima, Torsten M. Scheyer, Michael A. Taylor, and Matthew K. Vickaryous, who all offered helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1. The Field MuseumChicagoUSA

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