By Liz Fuller-Wright
A tortoise from a Galápagos species long believed extinct has been found alive and now confirmed to be a living member of the species. The tortoise, named Fernanda after her Fernandina Island home, is the first of her species identified in more than a century.
The Fernandina Island Galápagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus, or “fantastic giant tortoise”) was known only from a single specimen, collected in 1906. The discovery in 2019 of a female tortoise living on Fernandina Island provided the opportunity to determine if the species lives on. By sequencing the genomes of both the living individual and the museum specimen, and comparing them to the other 13 species of Galápagos giant tortoises, Princeton postdoctoral researcher Stephen Gaughran showed that the two known Fernandina tortoises are members of the same species, genetically distinct from all others. The study was published in the June 9, 2022, issue of Communications Biology. Scientists estimate that Fernanda is well over 50 years old, but she is small, possibly because the limited vegetation stunted her growth. Encouragingly, tracks and scat of at least two or three other tortoises were found during other recent expeditions on the island.