Scientists have confirmed that a species of turtle believed to have become extinct more than a century ago in the Galapagos still has a living female. The animal was named Fernanda, in honor of Fernandina Island, where it was found and also where a specimen of the species was last seen in 1906.
The turtle was found in 2019, but only now scientists have been able to prove that it was a giant tortoise from the island of Fernandina Galapagos (Chelonoidis phantasticus) or a giant giant tortoise.
By sequencing Fernanda’s DNA and the DNA of a tortoise that was in the museum, it was possible to make a comparison with 13 other giant tortoises. In this way, the scientists discovered that the known turtles are of the same species and genetically distinct from other species. The results of the research were published in the scientific journal Communication biology Thursday (9).
“For many years, the original specimen collected in 1906 was thought to have been carried to the island because it was the only one of its kind. It now appears to be one of the few to have survived for a century.” Princeton University professor Peter Grant told the British newspaper The Mirror. He has been studying the evolution of species in the Galapagos Islands for more than 40 years.
Peter explains that when Fernanda was discovered, many ecologists suspected that she was in fact the original species of tortoise on the island, because it does not have a saddle-shaped shell.
Turtles cannot swim from island to island, but they float and can be moved from one Galapagos island to another during hurricanes or other major storms. There are also historical records of sailors taking turtles between the islands.
“Discovering a living specimen gives hope and also opens new questions, as many mysteries remain,” says Professor Adalgisa Caccone, from Yale University in the USA, senior author of the study.
Scientists estimate Fernanda to be more than 50 years old, but she is young, possibly because limited vegetation has hampered her growth.
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