Turtles fossilized while mating!


‘Excitement’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. The news media heralded the ‘mating turtles’ fossils even before the Biology Letters research paper1 was officially available online. The famous fossil-filled shale deposits at the Messel Pit in Germany have yielded multiple fossil treasures with great fanfare before. But this announcement of the world’s first-ever discovery of copulating vertebrates fossilized “in flagrante delicto” (as both Nature journal2 and Science magazine3 put it) was a news editor’s dream.4 Even the dour (?) BBC didn’t hold back, headlining: “Turtles fossilised in sex embrace”.5

Note that it wasn’t just one aquatic turtle pair that had been found, but nine of them.6

From an evolutionary perspective, one can understand the scientists’ and media’s animation. That’s because, from their paradigm, it’s remarkable that any such fossils would be found—let alone nine. As lead researcher Walter Joyce, a fossil turtle expert at the University of Tübingen in Germany, mused, “there really is no reason to enter the fossil record while you are mating.”6

He’s right—but that’s if the traditional evolutionary millions-of-years uniformitarian paradigm is correct. As Joyce told LiveScience, “the chances of both partners dying while mating are extremely low, and the chances of both partners being preserved as fossils afterward even lower.”4 (To Discovery News Joyce said that “the chances of both partners dying at the same time is highly unlikely and the chances of both partners being preserved afterwards even less likely.”6 (Emphasis added.)

On the other hand, as we’ve pointed out on this website and in our other published works for many years, the evidence makes much better sense in light of the Bible’s account of history. These nine pairs of fossilized turtles are much better understood as a legacy of rapid burial in the global Flood of Noah’s day.

First, note their having been described as very well preserved: “incredible fossil specimens”,6 “truly exceptional fossils”,4 just like all the other “thousands of exquisitely preserved fossil creatures pulled from Messel Pit”5—fossils renowned for being “extraordinarily well preserved … [e.g.] insects and feathers that still have hints of their original colors.”3

Second, note that these turtles, identified as Allaeochelys crassesculpta, in the words of lead researcher Walter Joyce “would have looked very similar to their closest living relative, the pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta) from New Guinea and Australia, just much smaller.”4 That is precisely what we wrote earlier in this Creation magazine article about turtles. In other words, despite supposedly 47 million years having elapsed since the fossilization of these turtle pairs,7 they’re just the same as turtles today—no evolution. In fact, the actual time elapsed since these turtles were rapidly buried under water-borne sediment is only about 4,500 years—i.e. dating from the time of the Genesis Flood.

Third, despite paleontologists’ protestations that “it is rare for any animal to die and be fossilized while engaged in a behavior”,6 their own documentation is replete with such examples. E.g., “fish that choked on large prey items and were later found fossilized in that moment. Certain dinosaurs died fighting or while brooding over their nests.”6

No wonder that paleontologists have increasingly moved away from true uniformitarianism (‘the present is the key to the past’), and begun invoking more catastrophic scenarios. (Under no circumstances, however, must it be allowed to resemble the worldwide Genesis Flood.)

In the case of these turtles, the scenario favoured by Joyce and his colleagues is that the turtles were preserved in a volcanic lake. “The mating turtles tell us that the surface waters of Messel Lake were hospitable enough to allow turtles to live and mate, but that animals would die accidentally when they sank during mating into relatively shallow, poisonous subsurface layers,” said Joyce.2 “Many animals enter a trance-like state when mating or laying eggs, and it is possible that these turtles simply did not notice that they were entering poisonous waters before it was too late.”2

That’s beautifully creative storytelling, but there’s a fatal flaw in the story, as Nature reported:

“Edwin Cadena, a doctoral student in palaeontology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, agrees that the study shows ‘strong evidence to consider this the first case of coupling captured in the fossil record of vertebrates’. More controversial, he says, is the interpretation of what the Messel lake was like. The notion of a stratified lake works as an explanation for the turtles’ fate, Cadena says, ‘but not so well for other fossils found at Messel, for example bats or birds or even other small mammals’. If the upper layers of the lake were inhabitable, Cadena asks, then what caused the death of airborne and terrestrial animals? The turtles are just part of an ongoing fossil mystery.”2

Actually, it doesn’t even work that well for the turtles, i.e. if there were no other fossils found at Messel. One would have to believe not only that the same mysterious set of events befell all nine of these allegedly entranced turtle couples, but that all of them were later mysteriously protected from decay and predation.

The ‘ongoing fossil mystery’ is, however, much easier to explain when one views Genesis as straightforward history. The evidence for the year-long planetary cataclysm it describes is all around us and under our feet. The best explanation for not only these turtles, but the many other beautifully preserved creatures in the Messel Shale Pit, is rapid burial in one of the many catastrophic sedimentary events occurring during that Genesis Flood. What a pity that so many either don’t know, or won’t know.

First published: 21 June 2012
Re-featured on homepage: 6 December 2022


  1. Joyce, W., Micklich, N., Schaal, S. and Scheyer, T., Caught in the act: the first record of copulating fossil vertebrates, Biology Letters doi:10.1098/rsbl.2012.0361, published online before print June 20, 2012. Return to text.
  2. Switek, B., Sex locked in stone, Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2012.10850, 20 June 2012. Return to text.
  3. Perkins, S., Turtle sex—preserved for the ages, ScienceNOW, http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/06/turtle-sexpreserved-for-the-ages.html, 20 June 2012. Return to text.
  4. Choi, C., Coitus Interruptus: Ancient Turtle Sex Fossilized, LiveScience, http://www.livescience.com/21056-ancient-turtle-sex-fossils.html, 20 June 2012. Return to text.
  5. Amos, J., Turtles fossilised in sex embrace, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18495102, 20 June 2012. Return to text.
  6. Viegas, J., Ancient turtles died copulating—nine fossilized turtle couples preserved over the millenia died in the act of mating, Discovery News, http://news.discovery.com/animals/turtles-fossil-copulating-120619.html, 20 June 2012. Return to text.
  7. 47 million years old … and still doing it, New Scientist 214(2870):15, 23 June 2012. Return to text.

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