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3D images of a turtle embryo

Cite this dataset

Ke, Yuzheng et al. (2021). 3D images of a turtle embryo [Dataset]. Dryad.


Turtle eggs containing embryos are exceedingly rare in the fossil record. Here, we provide the first description and taxonomic identification, to our knowledge, of a fossilized embryonic turtle preserved in an egg, a fossil recovered from the Upper Cretaceous Xiaguan Formation of Henan Province, China. Through Computed Tomography and Three-Dimensional reconstruction, many bones can be clearly displayed, including the maxillae, mandibles, ribs, plastral plates, scapula, forelimbs, and hind limbs. The specimen is attributed to the Nanhsiungchelyidae (Pan-Trionychia), an extinct group of large terrestrial turtles (possibly the species Yuchelys nanyangensis). The egg is rigid, spherical, and is one of the largest and thickest shelled Mesozoic turtle eggs known. Importantly, this specimen allowed identification of other nanhsiungchelyid egg clutches and comparison to those of Adocidae, as Nanhsiungchelyidae and Adocidae form the basal extinct clade Adocusia of the Pan-Trionychia (includes living soft-shelled turtles). Despite the differences in habitat adaptations, nanhsiungchelyids (terrestrial) and adocids (aquatic) shared several reproductive traits, including relatively thick eggshells, medium size clutches and relatively large eggs, which may be primitive for trionychoids (including Adocusia and Carrettochelyidae). The unusually thick calcareous eggshell of nanhsiungchelyids compared to those of all other turtles (including adocids) may be related to a nesting style adaptation to an extremely harsh environment.


The egg (with embryonic bones) was scanned using a 225 kV micro-CT scanner at 170 KV and 0.12 mA, with a resolution ratio of 37.64 μm, which was designed by IHEP. The 3D models of the embryonic remains were reconstructed through the use of Mimics 17 software.


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 41688103

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 41830320

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Award: 327513-2009