Giant Tortoise Extinct

January 23, 2012 by staff 

Giant Tortoise Extinct, Giant Galapagos Tortoises in Isabela Island, Galapagos. Adults of large subspecies can weigh over 300 kilograms (660lb) and measure 1.2 meters (4 ft) long. Although the maximum life expectancy of a wild tortoise is unknown, the average life expectancy is estimated to be 200 years.

A subspecies of the the giant Galapagos tortoise, Chelonoidis elephantopus, long thought to be extinct for more than 150 years, is now believed to might still exist, scientists say.

Yale University researchers conducted a highly thorough geneticanlysis of various Galapagos giant tortoises in the region, which allowed them to speculate that at least a few dozen specimens of the elusive Chelonoidis elephantopus might still be alive!

In 1835 during his antological Beagle expedition to the archipelago, Charles Darwin extensively studied the giant tortoises there, which he reserved a special chapter in his theory of evolution by natural selection. Sadly, just a few years before Darwin set fist foot on the islands, the C. elephantopus, a native of the Floreana Island, was already considered extinct due to excessive whaling – the only signs left behind of its once existence were its giant shells.

The Yale team visited Volcano Wolf on the northern tip of Isabela Island in 2008 and took blood samples from more than 1,600 tortoises. These samples were then compared with other genetic signatures from an extensive genetic database filled with all the known living and extinct species of tortoises. What the reserachers found was nothing short of amazing.

From the slew of samples, the scientists observed that the C. elephantopus genetic signature was present in 84 Volcano Wolf tortoises, meaning one of their parents was a purebred member of the missing species. Some hybrids are only 15 years old, so their parents are likely to be alive, given that they can live to over 100 years old.

“Around Volcano Wolf, it was a mystery – you could find domed shells, you could find saddlebacks, and anything in between,” recounted Gisella Caccone, senior scientist on the new study.

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