A smooth-shelled turtle unearthed six years ago in southwestern Saskatchewan's backyard has turned into a rare find.
According to a team of paleontologists, the 2016 discovery near Grasslands National Park is a Leiochelys Tokaryki. Making it only the second of its kind studied in North America, the other being in Mexico.
"It suddenly hits, like wow, this is something that hasn't been discovered before and we're the first people to really look at it," Caelan Livke, a University of Regina Master of Science student, said.
The 66-million-year-old skeleton was spotted underneath a triceratops bone during a separate excavation just outside the boundaries of the park. After extracting the fist-sized animal, it was sent for CT scanning at Saskatoon's Canadian Light Source to determine the specimen.
"Which allowed us to see all the bones that are trapped inside the field jacket without preparing it all the way," Ryan McKellar, the curator of paleontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, said. "Caelan put in a lot of work rendering it, or virtually extracting all the bones from the rock and making a nice 3D model where we could go through all the passageways and skull and see the finest details of its bone structure."
From there, Royal Tyrrell Museum's Don Brinkman was brought in to help. McKellar described Brinkman as a turtle specialist - and the latter was tasked with creating the fossil's description as a new species.
"The other fun aspect of this is that Tim Tokaryk, the Curator of Palaeontology that worked out of the T.rex Discovery Centre for many years, the species was named in his honour," McKellar stated. "It's more of a tip of the hat to Tim and all the hard work he put into Saskatchewan paleontology."
A 3D model of the 80-90 per cent complete skeletal will join the museum in Eastend later this summer. However, the turtle can still be found alive in parts of the world as well.
"This particular group of turtles are still with us today and have a habitat that are heavily wooded stream settings," McKellar added.
While this type of turtle may have vanished from present-day in southwestern Saskatchewan, they can be found as close as Nebraska.