|Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea)|
Cryptoderes Duméril and Bibron, 1834
The Cryptodira (Greek: hidden neck) are a suborder of Testudines that includes most living tortoises and turtles. Cryptodira differ from Pleurodira (side-necked turtles) in that they lower their necks and pull the heads straight back into the shells, instead of folding their necks sideways along the body under the shells' marginals. They include among their species freshwater turtles, snapping turtles, tortoises, soft-shell turtles, and sea turtles.
The Cryptodira are characterized by retraction of the head in the vertical plane, which permits for primarily vertical movements and restricted lateral movements outside of the shell. These motions are largely due to the morphology and arrangement of cervical vertebrae. Of all recent turtles, the cervical column consists of nine joints and eight vertebrae. Compared to the narrow vertebrae and the closely positioned zygapophyses of the pleurodires, the cryptodires' vertebrae take on the opposite shape. Their cervical vertebrae are more distended, and their zygapophyses (processes that interlock adjacent vertebrae) are much more widely spaced - features allowing for a condition called ginglymoidy, and ultimately, their "hidden" neck retraction. Ginglymoidy refers to the double articulation where articulation between the sixth and seventh vertebrae and the seventh and eighth vertebrae allows for bending of the neck into an S shape. Formation of this S shape occurs in one plane that enables retraction into the shell.
Cryptodiran neck retraction is also dependent on associated cervical musculature for its characteristic motions. In a study that focused solely on the mechanism of neck retraction in Chelodina (Pleurodire) versus that of Apalone (Cryptodire), an absence of the longissimus system, the Iliocostalis system and minimization of the epaxial musculature was found. Absence of longissimus musculature, which primarily functions in moving the neck via ipsilateral flexion and contralateral rotation, contributes to the backwards retraction of the neck into the shell. Lack of this muscular system also results in poorly developed transverse processes (the lateral processes of a vertebra), forcing them to be developed in a more cranial direction. The iliocostalis system, used for lateral flexion and extension of the vertebral column, is commonly absent in all turtles. With the presence of a shell, these muscular movements are no longer possible. Epaxial musculature that functions in alternated forms of stepping and walking is minimized in turtles, due to their restricted stride lengths and heavily weighted shells.
Cryptodires evolved during the Jurassic period, and by the end of the Jurassic had almost completely replaced pleurodires in the lakes and rivers, while beginning to develop land-based species. Meanwhile, pleurodires became the dominant freshwater testudines in the Cretaceous to Eocene of Europe, and produced a family of marine species, the Bothremydidae.
The Cryptodira suborder has three living superfamilies, the Chelonioidea (sea turtles), Testudinoidea (tortoises and pond turtles), and Trionychoidea (soft-shell turtles and relatives). The families within the Kinosternoidea are now recognized as a paraphyletic assemblage of mostly primitive Trionychoidea; they do not form a natural group.
Two circumscriptions of the Cryptodira are commonly found. One is used here; it includes a number of primitive extinct lineages known only from fossils, as well as the Eucryptodira. These are, in turn, made up from some very basal groups, and the Centrocryptodira contain the prehistoric relatives of the living cryptodires, as well as the latter, which are collectively called Polycryptodira.
The alternate concept restricts the use of the term "Cryptodira" to the crown clade (i.e. Polycryptodira). The Cryptodira as understood here are called Cryptodiramorpha in this view. A recent study placed Plesiochelyidae as an Angolachelonia and outside Testudines, thus Cryptodira.
As per the system used here, the Cryptodira can be classified as: