After 150 years of being “extinct,” a species of giant tortoise may be on the verge of a comeback tour, scientists report today (Jan. 9).
The researchers “found” the lost species, called Chelonoidis elephantopus, by analyzing the genome of a closely related species, Chelonoidis becki, which lives on Isabela Island, the largest of the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The island lies about 200 miles (322 kilometers) from Floreana Island, where C. elephantopus was last spotted before disappearing, likely due to hunting by whalers, some 150 years ago.
The two species of gigantic tortoise, both living in the Galápagos Islands (famously studied by Charles Darwin), have different shaped shells. The shells of C. elephantopus on Floreana Island were saddle-shaped while tortoises on other islands, including C. becki, had domed-shaped shells. These giant tortoises can weigh nearly 900 pounds (408 kilograms) and reach almost 6 feet(1.8 meters) in length.