June 2022, Galapagos Islands
A "Fantastic" giant tortoise has been found alive and well in the Galapagos Islands after being presumed extinct for more than a century!
Chelonoidis phantasticus, or "fantastic huge tortoise," was known from a single 1906 specimen. A female tortoise found on Fernandina Island in 2019 allowed researchers to assess if the species survives.
The 50-plus-year-old tortoise was named Fernanda after its Fernandina Island home.
Princeton's Stephen Gaughran revealed that the two known Fernandina tortoises are genetically unique from all others by sequencing their genomes and comparing them to the other
13 Galápagos giant tortoises.
He co-wrote a study in Communications Biology verifying her species' survival.
Many ecologists doubted Fernanda was a native phantasticus turtle. The male "fantastic gigantic tortoises" have unusually flared shells with saddlebacking at the front. Saddlebacking is peculiar to Galápagos tortoises, and phantasticus demonstrates it more.
Fernanda lacks a saddleback, although her restricted growth may have damaged her looks. She was discovered in 2019 on a lava-cut island patch of vegetation.
At the Galapagos National Park Turtle Center, specialists are looking for ways to save the species.
Princeton's Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Peter Grant, said "the discovery is vital for conservation. It motivates biologists to find the last few members of an endangered population."
Photo credits: © Galápagos Conservancy / Galápagos National Park Directorate