Rare tortoise discovery doubles the species

The recent discovery of a tortoise on a remote island in the Galapagos doubled the known members of the species. Credit: Lucas Bustamante

When researchers discovered a lone female tortoise on one of the more remote Galapagos Islands, it raised intriguing questions. Only one other tortoise, a male found in 1906, had ever been found on Ferandina Island. The discovery of the recent tortoise, dubbed Fernanda, effectively doubles the known members of the species Chelonoidis phantasticus.

Writing in Communications Biology, the researchers concluded that the two tortoises are closer in relation to each other than to any other species of Galapagos turtles.

“The finding of one alive specimen gives hope and also opens up new questions as many mysteries still remain,” said Adalgisa Caccone, a senior research scientist and lecturer in Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior author of the study. “Are there more tortoises on Fernandina that can be brought back into captivity to start a breeding program? How did tortoises colonize Fernandina and what is their evolutionary relationship to the other giant Galapagos tortoises?”

The Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Conservancy plan to scour the island of Fernandina for more tortoises like them.

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