A rare species of “giant” tortoise, long thought extinct, has been found alive after more than a century on the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. Scientists call it a “big deal.”
The animal, which belongs to the rare Chelonoidis phantasticus species, was named Fernanda in honor of its home on Fernandina Island, a largely unexplored active volcano in the western Galapagos Archipelago.
She is the first of her species identified in over 100 years. A male species was discovered in 1906 by explorer Rollo Beck during an expedition.
Fernanda was discovered in 2019, wandering inside a clump of vegetation among the solidified lava of the islet, reports The Guardian. Researchers were able to confirm that the rare species of phantasticus was not extinct after taking a DNA sample to match it to the 1906 tortoise.
Princeton University researchers sequenced the genomes of the 1906 tortoise and the 2019 tortoise, matching them to members of the same giant tortoise species, which was genetically different from the 13 other tortoise species found in the Galapagos.
All Galápagos giant tortoises are all listed on the IUCN Red List from vulnerable to critically endangered, with one species already extinct.
“Everything we knew about this species pointed to it being extinct,” Stephen Gaughran told The Guardian.
Gaughran is a researcher in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University and one of the lead authors of the study that announced the discovery. His study was published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology.
“So it’s a big deal that a species that we thought was extinct for a hundred years suddenly appears here.”
The research further suggests that Fernanda may not have been the only giant tortoise to arrive on the island and that there may have been turtle populations on the island at some point.
(With agency contributions)
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