A 240-million-year-old turtle died with a type of bone cancer that still haunts the living, National Geographic reports.
The fossil, a left femur of the proto-turtle, was collected in Germany in 2013 and measures less than two inches long. Though you might mistake Pappochelys for some type of lizard by outward looks alone, paleontologists who first described it in 2015 believe the shell-free animal was one of the earliest species in the turtle family tree. It didn't have any shell - the signature feature which modern turtles are known for evolved 30 million years later. The origin of the turtle's shell is a fascinating and controversial subject among biologists, and a whole story in itself.
The cancerous mass identified on the femur of a Pappochelys specimen can be clearly seen in the upper half of the bone. But the telltale signs of infection, such as pores where puss would have oozed out from, were absent in the femur.
Other possible causes were considered and ruled out, eventually narrowing the answer down to a final possibility: bone cancer, specifically an osteosarcoma. This type of cancer has been previously reported in a Triassic amphibian, but this is likely the oldest instance found in an Triassic amniote, meaning a reptile, bird or mammal, the team reported.
Bottom Line: This research letter documents bone cancer in a 240-million-year-old stem-turtle from the Triassic period, helping to provide more data about the history of cancer in tetrapod evolution. "We're all part of the same Earth and we are all inflicted with the same phenomena".