The Fossil Turtles of Hagerman: Just Shells of Their Former Selves
Idaho is not known for its turtles. In fact, many people may not be aware that there is even a turtle living in the state, the painted turtle, found only in the panhandle. Since there are no turtles living in any parts of the Snake River drainage today, it may be somewhat of a surprise to learn that pieces of turtle shell are one of the most common fossils found at Hagerman Fossil Beds and that two types of extinct fossil turtles have been found here.
The living species of both Trachemys and Clemmys are thoroughly aquatic turtles that seldom venture on land. That their close relatives are common as fossils at Hagerman fits our interpretation, suggested by many of the other animals such as beaver, muskrat, otter, frogs and the waterfowl, that 3.5 million years ago an extensive wetland habitat existed in the area. Their disappearance from southern Idaho probably resulted from the increasing drying and cooling of the region and loss of suitable habitat, possibly caused by the continued uplift of the Cascade Mountains and the resulting rain shadow in Idaho. Although not present in Idaho today, studies of their surviving descendants in other areas can provide us with an insight into what the environment was like in southern Idaho 3.5 million years ago.
Did You Know?
The Snake River Overlook, a wheelchair accessible viewing platform, allows a view of bluffs about 600 feet high. They consist of strata, or layers of sediments (sands, silts, and clays) deposited by the flooding of rivers flowing into ancient Lake Idaho more than three million years ago.