New Galapagos iguana species discovered


Galapagos pink iguanaFrom New Scientist:

Darwin missed ‘earliest’ Galapagos species

* 19:58 05 January 2009 by Rowan Hooper

It is one of the most studied parts of the world, and played a major part in shaping Darwin’s thinking about the origin of species – yet the Galapagos Islands continue to give more to our understanding of biology.

It was finches that led Darwin to understand that species could change with environmental pressures, and now genetic analysis has revealed that a long-overlooked pink iguana is a species in its own right. The analysis also suggests the pink iguana is one of the earliest examples of species diversification on the islands.

Galapagos land iguanas belong to the genus Conolophus, of which there are currently three recognised species. Remarkably, given their colour, pink iguanas were apparently not seen until they were noticed by park rangers in 1986. They are sometimes known as “rosada” iguanas, from the Spanish for pink.

Gabriele Gentile of Tor Vergata University of Rome, Italy, and colleagues took blood samples of rosada iguanas and the other two species in order to test their relatedness.

Already endangered

Genetic analysis shows that the rosada iguana originated in the Galapagos more than five million years ago, and diverged from the other land iguana populations even as the archipelago was still forming.

The species came into being even before the appearance of the Volcán Wolf volcano in the north of Isabela Island – the only place the rosada is now found.

The pink form, says Gentile, should be considered a third species, and is evolutionarily older than the other two species.

And though it has only recently been discovered, Gentile says conservation measures are needed to prevent the pink iguana from going extinct.

“Available data suggest that the population size of the pink iguana is very small,” he says. Feral cats in the region could be eating eggs and young iguanas, Gentile speculates. Direct hunting by humans is also blamed.

See also here. And here. And here. And here.

Update March 2011: here.

Conservation of Galápagos land iguanas: genetic monitoring & predictions of a long-term program on the island Santa Cruz: here.

Raft or bridge: How did iguanas reach tiny Pacific islands? Here.

The Lesser Antillean Iguana, Iguana delicatissima, is listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. Once common throughout most of the northern Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, this impressive lizard has been extirpated from several islands and is declining on most others: here.

January 2012. For the first time in eleven years Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust‘s rare Lesser Antillean iguanas have successfully bred, producing two young hatchlings: here.

Lutz’s tree iguana (Liolaemus lutzae): here.

7 thoughts on “New Galapagos iguana species discovered

  1. Pink iguanas discovered on Galapagos Islands

    Mon Jan 5, 9:10 pm ET

    Pink iguanas discovered on Galapagos Islands AFP – A Galapagos National Park picture, showing a pink iguana. A team of Ecuadoran and Italian researchers …

    QUITO (AFP) – A team of Ecuadoran and Italian researchers have discovered a unique species of pink land iguanas living on the Galapagos Islands, the scientist who wrote the report told AFP.

    “It is surprising to have made a find of this magnitude in the 21st century,” said Washington Tapia, head of research at the Galapagos National Park.

    Researchers at first thought that the iguanas, which are pink with black spots, simply had skin pigmentation problems, Tapia said.

    The first pink iguanas were discovered in 1986, and after years of research scientists concluded that it was a unique species.

    “We have not yet determined the size of the population, but we estimate that it is small because we have only captured 36 pink iguanas for research up to now,” Tapia said in a telephone interview.

    The pink species can be up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) long as measured from tip to tail, and unlike the other land iguanas does not have a row of spines running up its back.

    “It is a unique species,” Tapia said. “But more research is needed to better determine its unique characteristics.”

    Made up of 13 main islands, in 1978 UNESCO declared the islands Patrimony of Humanity.

  2. Pink iguanas unseen by Darwin offer evolution clue

    By Michael Kahn – Mon Jan 5, 5:43 pm ET

    LONDON (Reuters) – Pink iguanas unknown to Charles Darwin during his visits to the Galapagos islands may provide evidence of species divergence far earlier than the English naturalist’s famous finches, researchers said Monday.

    The findings also for the first time describe the black-striped reptiles — first seen in 1986 and only a few more times since — as a new species, said Gabriele Gentile of the University Tor Vergata in Rome, who led the study.

    They also add to understanding of the evolution of species on the remote islands, which remain much as they were millions of years ago and which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Many of its species are found nowhere else.

    “Despite the attention given to them, the Galapagos have not yet finished offering evolutionary novelties,” Gentile and colleagues wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “So far, this species is the only evidence of ancient diversification along the Galapagos land iguana lineage and documents one of the oldest events of divergence ever recorded in the Galapagos.”

    During Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos in 1835 his observations of finch varieties with different-shaped beaks scattered across the archipelago’s some 100 islands were a key element in his formulation of the principles of evolution.

    His studies on how one type had evolved into several after a probable chance migration thousands of years earlier from the Latin American mainland lay at the heart of his major work “On the Origin of Species,” published in 1859.

    As the finches spread around the islands and their populations became cut off from each other, the birds adapted to the food locally available by developing beaks of a shape most suitable to harvest it, his research showed.

    Darwin did not visit areas inhabited by the pink land iguana and so missed the species, whose existence suggests diversification in the Galapagos happened some five million years ago. That is far earlier than attributed to most other Galapagos species like the finches, Gentile said.

    “We were not the first to see this form but we were the first to say what it is and that it is a new species,” Gentile said in a telephone interview.

    A genetic analysis showed that the pink reptile likely originated in the Galapagos and split from other iguana populations some five million years ago when the archipelago was still forming, the researchers said.

    The creatures only seem to live near a single volcano at most 350,000 years old, which means the reptiles that grow longer than a meter and up to 12 kilograms must have at one time existed elsewhere in the Galapagos, Gentile said.

    The researchers documented fewer than 40 of the iguanas over two years and Gentile said conservation efforts and funds are urgently needed to keep the species from dying off.

    “We think the population is very small and there is a great risk of extinction,” Gentile said.

    (Reporting by Michael Kahn; editing by Jon Boyle)

  3. In honor of the discovery of a Pink Iguana, we shall now take 1 shot of this Pink Vodka, mix with 1/2 shot of creme de menth, and 1 pint of Vanilla or Strabberry Ice Cream blend until thick serve with a parasol pine apple wedge and a cherry There you have it the Pink Iquana

  4. Pingback: German Galapagos iguana thief caught | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: New coral species discovered in Galapagos waters | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Galapagos pink iguana on film | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: German Galapagos iguana criminal convicted | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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