Sea turtles use their flippers to handle prey despite the limbs being evolutionarily designed for locomotion, a discovery by Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers published today in PeerJ.
The in-depth examination of the phenomenon – Limb-use By Foraging Sea Turtles, an Evolutionary Perspective – by authors Jessica Fujii and Dr. Kyle Van Houtan and others reveals a behavior thought to be less likely in marine tetrapods is actually widespread and that this type of exaptation of flippers may have been occurring 70 million years earlier than previously thought.
“Sea turtles don’t have a developed frontal cortex, independent articulating digits or any social learning,” says Van Houtan, Director of Science at Monterey Bay Aquarium. “And yet here we have them ‘licking their fingers’ just like a kid who does have all those tools. It shows an important aspect of evolution – that opportunities can shape adaptations.”