University of Tübingen scientists have found remains of nine pairs of turtles that the university stated died 47 million years ago while mating.
A university press release stated that the pairs of turtles are the first recorded find of mating fossilized vertebrates.
Scientists found the pairs of turtles in the Messel Fossil Pit, a UNESCO world heritage site south of Frankfurt in western Germany.
"There is no doubt in my mind," said Walter Joyce, the scientist who led the expedition. "These animals died some 47 million years ago in the act of mating. No other vertebrates are known to have died during this important biological process and then been fossilized."
BBC News reported that, in some cases, males had their tails tucked under their partners' as would be expected in a mating position.
The fossil pit is believed to be a former deep volcanic crater that preserved animals and plants that sank in it. The thought is that the turtles were mating in the volcanic lake and died when they accidentally sank into poisonous sub-surface waters.
While tens of thousands of fossils have been found at the site, Joyce told Nature.com that these were the only ones found in pairs.
The turtles, BBC News stated, are from the extinct species Allaeochelys crassesculpta. They are thought to be related to the pig-nosed turtle found in waters around Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Nine pairs have been found over 30 years. Most were found in contact with each other.
"People had long speculated they might have died while mating, but that's quite different than showing it," Joyce told the BBC.
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