Wednesday, 3 June 2020


In April of 2018, Jordan Mallon and Donald Brinkman described a new species of nanhsiungchelyid turtle, Basilemys morrinensis, from a nearly complete shell from the Horsethief Member, lower Maastrichtian, Horseshoe Canyon Formation of Alberta.

You'll recall we've found Basilemys in the Sustut Basin of northern British Columbia. These two finds allow us to make some correlations on what was happening during the Upper Cretaceous in BC and Alberta.

The species Mallon and Brinkman wrote up is intermediate in age between the Campanian forms B. variolosa and B. gaffneyi and the upper Maastrichtian forms B. sinuosa and B. praeclara. It is also intermediate in its morphology, possessing a unique suite of both plesiomorphic — divided extragulars — and derived, square epiplastral beak, pygal wider than long, traits.

The Horseshoe Canyon specimen also boasts an autapomorphic square cervical scale. Phylogenetic analysis assuming parsimony recovers B. morrinensis in a polytomy with B. variolosa and B. gaffneyi, outside the clade formed by the upper Maastrichtian forms B. sinuosa and B. praeclara. The holotype of Basilemys morrinensis provides the first evidence that this genus reached a fairly large size, sometimes over a meter in length in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation, so not as small as previously thought based on less complete shell material.

Although Basilemys is usually regarded as terrestrial based on its skull and limb morphology, this specimen has a shell with a low profile — a derived hydrodynamic feature usually indicative of an aquatic mode of life.

The Horseshoe Canyon specimen was found with well-preserved fossils of Equisetum or horsetail. The Basilemys from Sustut was also found in association with plant fossils. So, aquatic, yes. But swampy freshwater aquatic. Or perhaps wet woods and the peripheries of water bodies — lakes, rivers, ponds. We know horsetails prefer a moist location and it appears our dear Basilymys did also. 

Image One: Basilemys morrinensis, CMN 57059, shell, in A, dorsal, B, ventral, C, right lateral, and D, anterior views. Photo: Donald B. Brinkman

Image Two: Depositional context of CMN 57059. Segmented stalks of Equisetum cf. E. perlaevigatum (marked by arrowheads) found associated with shell. B, CMN 57059 as it was originally uncovered in the field (CMN negative #61554). Scale bar equals 8 cm (A).  Photo: Donald B. Brinkman

Mallon, J. C., and D. B. Brinkman. 2018. Basilemys morrinensis, a new species of nanhsiungchelyid turtle from the Horseshoe Canyon Formation (Upper Cretaceous) of Alberta, Canada. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2018.1431922.