The chelonians (turtles, tortoises, and terrapins) are an ancient group of reptiles that evolved some time during the Triassic from anapsid stock.  Known chiefly for the armor plating of modified scales that covers them both above and below, chelonians have survived through the ages relatively unchanged.

    The horned turtles, Spec's answer to tortoises, are small-to-large-sized terrestrial turtles with exclusively vegetarian diets.  These reptiles possess thick shells and stout legs for carrying their weight, and many species sport large spines at the base of the neck and on the tail.  Unlike other turtles, meiolaniids cannot draw their heads into their shells, a condition that may be either the cause or the effect of their horned heads.

    This clade of bizarre chelonians evolved late in the Mesozoic and, during the Cenozoic, spread throughout the Southern Hemisphere.  Today, some horned turtle species dwell in Australia and North America, but the most spectacular meiolaniid forms, the panzertoitles, can only be found on the South American pampas.

(Text by Daniel Bensen)

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