The cranial morphology of fossil and living sea turtles (Cheloniidae, Dermochelyidae and Desmarochelyidae)
Many of the early taxonomic studies of fossil sea turtles relied heavily on postcranial evidence. Both the Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae were erected on detail of the shell and limbs. ‘Desmatochelys’ was originally described in part using cranial evidence, but later workers (Zangerl and Sloan, 1960) suppressed the family on evidence from the shell. Little in the way of comparative work has been undertaken using the cranial morphology of fossil or living forms. This is thought long overdue. The first bone by bone description of the living cheloniids has revealed a large number of taxonomically useful characters and a close relationship between the genera. However, a great deal of interspecific variation was noted. ‘Chelonia mydas’ is considered to format least three subspecies on cranial evidence. The newly described ‘Natator (Chelonia) depressa’ is thought distinct from other living forms. The Dermochelyidae are seen to be a very conservative group and a large number of cranial characters link fossil and living forms. The arterial circulation of Dermochelys is redescribed and the importance of the blood flow to the head for use by the salt secreting glands in electrolyte balance is shown to be important. The Desmatochelyidae is shown to be a family in its own right, and a number of other genera, notably ‘Rhinochelys’ and ‘Notochelone’, are thought members of the group. Many of the basicranial features identified by Gaffney in the 70s for other fossil groups have been shown to be of use in the taxonomic study of the families under review.