CT scanning performed on prehistoric turtle to find skull, eggs, embryos

WASHINGTON - The fossilised remains of a 75-million-year-old turtle, only the second in the world found with eggs inside it, underwent CT scanning at Bozeman Deaconess hospital recently.

Knell, a Montana State University graduate student in Earth Sciences, has revealed that the purpose behind the scanning was to see whether he could find a skull and more eggs, besides learning whether or not the eggs contained embryos.

“It allows us to peer inside without digging into it. It gives us a hands-off look without having to break anything,” Knell said.

“It’s very cool,” added Frankie Jackson, an MSU palaeontologist who specializes in eggs.

Knell wanted to scan the entire turtle. Although the edges of its shell were missing, the fossil measured about one foot across and weighed 40 to 50 pounds.

“It’s a lot easier than scanning people,” said CT technician Tanya Spence, who has scanned dinosaur fossils for MSU’s Museum of the Rockies.

She said that she didn’t need to tell the fossil what it would experience during the CT scan, or ask the turtle to hold her breath. She didn’t worry about IV tubes or claustrophobia.

“We get to see bodies everyday, but not these. It’s fun,” she said.

As the CT scanner took cross-sections of the fossil, white images appeared slice by slice on Spence’s computer screen.

Jackson said that CT scans generally worked better on fossils than X-rays and MRIs did.

“Usually embryo bone doesn’t show up too well on a CT scan, so we might no be able to see embryos very well, but it could clue you in that you need to look at the eggs a little closer,” Jackson added.

However, the research team later realised that the eggs weren’t showing up as clearly as they’d expected, and they’d need to examine the images more closely.

They finally saved the images to a disc, and are planning to contact the Museum of the Rockies, which has special software for looking at CT images from a variety of angles.

The researchers expect to present their findings during the fourth international Symposium on Dinosaur Eggs and Babies. Knell’s adviser, David Varricchio, and Jackson are organizing the event, which will be held August 8-10 at MSU. (ANI)


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