A few days ago, we shared a story about a family finding their pet tortoise alive and well in their attic after it had been missing for over 30 years. Now prepare for an equally endearing tortoise comeback story.
Considered extinct for more than a century, a giant tortoise is actually alive in the Western Galápagos. Unsure at first, scientists confirmed the finding thanks to genetic sequencing.
Fernanda, the giant tortoise
The tortoise’s name is Fernanda and belongs to the Fernandina Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) species. The giant reptile, also known as the “fantastic giant tortoise” is native to the eponymous Fernandina isle in the Galápagos. For more than a century, scientists thought the tortoise went extinct following regular volcanic eruptions on the island.
Conservationists started doubting that classification in 2017 when park rangers found traces of the tortoise’s dung. It was only two years later that Princeton researchers discovered the lone female tortoise.
While the discovery brought new hope that the species had been spared from extinction, they weren’t 100 percent sure that Fernanda actually belonged to that particular tortoise family. The only known specimen, a single male, was discovered back in 1906. Fernanda looked much smaller a had a differently shaped shell.
Turning to DNA for confirmation
The researchers then turned to genetics to authenticate the tortoise. As such, the team compared Fernanda’s DNA with DNA from the male specimen. The results showed that both of them indeed belong to the same species of giant tortoises.
“We simultaneously were able to show the connection between Fernanda and the other Fernandina tortoise, and also the distinctiveness of those two tortoises from species that we see on other islands,” Stephen Gaughran, a Princeton University researcher and co-author of the paper, told New Scientist. “I was surprised, and then once it sank in, I was really excited about it.”
The researchers are hopeful that there are also other specimens on the island, which is difficult to explore because of its harsh terrain. According to the team, Fernanda is 50 years old and is expected to live until 200.
Source study: Communications Biology — The Galapagos giant tortoise Chelonoidis phantasticus is not extinct