Sometimes a new species is hiding in plain sight, and that is just the case of the newest species of Galapagos giant tortoise to be named. Just until recently, all the giant tortoises found on Santa Cruz Island were thought to belong to the same species Chelonoidis porteri; however, recent genetic analysis has indicated that there are in fact two distinct populations.

A research team led by Yale evolutionary biologist Adalgisa Caccone analyzed the repetitive nuclear DNA and the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA of the two populations of giant tortoise on Santa Cruz Island and were amazed to discover that they are genetically distinct enough to be classified as separate species although they physically look very similar.

The smaller population of about 250 individuals on the eastern side of the island, the Cerro Fatal tortoises, have been described as the new, distinct species of giant tortoise and have been named Chelonoidis donfaustoi after well-known giant tortoise caretaker Fausto Llerena Sánchez. The larger population of Santa Cruz tortoises, the Reserva tortoises, inhabit the western and southwestern parts of the island.

The genetic analysis of the two species of tortoise living on Santa Cruz Island has shown that they are more closely related to tortoises on other islands than to each other despite their similar physical features. No one had previous suspected they would be so genetically different due to the close physical resemblance between the two populations.

The Galapagos Islands never cease to amaze the world. These are the islands that fascinated Charles Darwin and ultimately changed the world forever. Nature’s mysteries and secrets are still being uncovered in these enchanting islands.

When you plan your holiday in the Galapagos, you are sure to discover the wonders of life in this unique equatorial paradise. Book your adventure today, and let the Galapagos Islands inspire you!

New Giant Tortoise Species Found in the Galapagos…

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