The origin of the unique body plan of turtles has long been one of the most intriguing mysteries in evolutionary morphology. Discoveries of several new stem‐turtles, together with insights from recent studies on the development of the shell in extant turtles, have provided crucial new information concerning this subject. It is now possible to develop a comprehensive scenario for the sequence of evolutionary changes leading to the formation of the turtle body plan within a phylogenetic framework and evaluate it in light of the ontogenetic development of the shell in extant turtles. The fossil record demonstrates that the evolution of the turtle shell took place over millions of years and involved a number of steps.Acknowledgements
We gratefully acknowledge Isabell Rosin, Norbert Adorf and Marit Kamenz for their assistance during fieldwork and for their meticulous preparation of the specimens of Pappochelys. We also thank Jacques Gauthier, Randall Irmis, Walter Joyce, Nicole Klein, Tyler Lyson, Erin Maxwell, Olivier Rieppel, Torsten Scheyer, Erich Weber and Ingmar Werneburg for helpful discussions, and Roger Benson for his editorial suggestions.