Almost all extant testudinids are highly associated with terrestrial habitats and the few tortoises with high affinity to aquatic environments are found within the genus Manouria. Manouria belongs to a clade which forms a sister taxon to all remaining tortoises and is suitable as a model for studying evolutionary transitions within modern turtles. We analysed the feeding behaviour of Manouria emys and due to its phylogenetic position, we hypothesise that the species might have retained some ancestral features associated with an aquatic lifestyle. We tested whether M. emys is able to feed both in aquatic and terrestrial environments. In fact, M. emys repetitively tried to reach submerged food items in water, but always failed to grasp them-no suction feeding mechanism was applied. When feeding on land, M. emys showed another peculiar behaviour; it grasped food items by its jaws-a behaviour typical for aquatic or semiaquatic turtles-and not by the tongue as generally accepted as the typical feeding mode in all tortoises studied so far. In M. emys, the hyolingual complex remained retracted during all food uptake sequences, but the food transport was entirely lingual based. The kinematical profiles significantly differed from those described for other tortoises and from those proposed from the general models on the function of the feeding systems in lower tetrapods. We conclude that the feeding behaviour of M. emys might reflect a remnant of the primordial condition expected in the aquatic ancestor of the tortoises.
Keywords: Evolution; Feeding kinematics; Food uptake; Tetrapoda; Transition to land; Turtle.