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Galápagos Pink Land Iguana - Conolophus marthae
Topic Started: Jan 9 2012, 02:04 PM (3,296 Views)
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Galápagos Pink Land Iguana - Conolophus marthae

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Iguanidae
Genus: Conolophus
Species: Conolophus marthae

The Galápagos Pink Land Iguana (Conolophus marthae) is a species of lizard of the Iguanidae family. It is native only to Isabela Island of the Galápagos. The iguana has a pink body with some stripes, prompting some to call it a "pink iguana" or the "Galapagos rosy iguana". The species was first discovered in 1986 and was identified as a separate species, distinct from the Galapagos land iguana, early in 2009. This species is the only evidence of ancient diversification along the Galápagos land iguana lineage and documents one of the oldest events of divergence ever recorded in the Galápagos.

Taxonomy and etymology
Its generic name, Conolophus, is derived from two Greek words: conos (κώνος) meaning "spiny" and lophos (λοφος) meaning "crest" or "plume", denoting the spiny crests along their backs. Its tentative specific name rosada was derived from the Spanish word meaning "pink" in reference to the animal's pinkish body color. The term was later abandoned for the formal description and the species epithet, marthae, was chosen in memory of Martha Rebecca Gentile, the stillborn daughter of the describer Gabriele Gentile

The species was first formally described in early 2009 as being distinct from the other island iguana populations. Genetic analysis of the pink morph subpopulation resulted in an identification of a genetically distinct and isolated population totally different from the other iguana species on the island. Further analysis suggested that this particular species diverged from its ancestral stock some 5.7 million years past.[4][5]

Conolophus marthae is anatomically similar to the closely related species, Conolophus subcristatus. Both exemplify the typical saurian body shape, having squat, quadrupedal bodies with elongated tails. The legs sprawl out to the sides like all lizards, and a row of short spines runs down the middle of the lizard's back starting from the base of the neck to the tail. However, there are a few anatomical differences between the two species. The crest of C. marthae has been described as somewhat different from that of C. subcristatus. The most apparent difference is that of coloration – the body of C. marthae is pinkish with a few wide, vertical dark bands. This is a stark contrast from the yellow-brown coloration of C. subcristatus.

Part of the Galapagos land iguana clade, individuals of the species first came into the public light in 1986 when park rangers spotted some pink lizards on a local volcano on Isabela Island. The entire range of the species is limited to Volcano Wolf on that particular island, and nowhere else in the Galapagos archipelago. No more than a hundred individuals have been estimated to form the single population of C. marthae. Although a formal review has not been performed on the population's status, this low number would make the animal a critically endangered species


Pink iguana rewrites family tree

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

A spectacular pink type of Galapagos iguana promises to rewrite the family's evolutionary history in the islands.

Rosada was missed by Charles Darwin during his 1835 visit, but appears to indicate the earliest known divergence of land animals in the archipelago.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers say rosada split from other land iguanas about 5.7 million years ago.

The scientists suggest that fewer than 100 of the animals still exist.

Park rangers first noted the presence of a pink variety of iguana on the slopes of Volcano Wolf on the island of Isabela in 1986, but it was not until 2000 that scientists began to examine it.

Darwin's studies in the Galapagos provided key evidence underpinning the theory of evolution by natural selection, which he set out in the 1859 tome On the Origin of Species.

Animals such as finches and tortoises showed subtle changes of form between the islands, leading him to theorise that they had evolved along different paths in different environments.

His travels bypassed Volcano Wolf, and so he missed the characteristic pink iguana, which has not been found outside this single, relatively young volcano.

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Separate lives

The researchers have now produced several strands of evidence suggesting that rather than being one form of the main land species Conolophus subcristatus, rosada should be considered a separate species.

Iguanas typically bob and duck when they meet each other - a behaviour thought to be important for marking territory and courtship - and rosada does so in a more complex fashion than the yellow-coloured subcristatus or the other Galapagos species,Conolophus pallidus.

It also has a different shape of crest. There is little sign of cross-breeding between pink and yellow.

And the DNA analysis shows it is far more distinct from all the other land iguanas than they are from each other.

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Rosada (above) has different colouring from most subcristatus (below)

That means the line that led to subcristatus and pallidus must have diverged from that leading to rosada long ago, with the split between subcristatus and pallidus coming much later.

The DNA work puts the date of divergence between rosada and the rest at about 5.7 million years ago, raising a new set of questions.

"At 5.7 million years ago, all of the western islands of the archipelago did not exist," said Gabriele Gentile from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, who led the new analysis.

"That's a conundrum, because it's now only inhabiting one part of Isabela that formed less than half a million years ago," he told BBC News.

Even the oldest parts of the archipelago may be less than five million years old.

The explanation may be that some volcanoes that are now under water were above it at the time when the first iguanas arrived, and this allowed some of the creatures to climb onto land and begin their separate evolution.

Earlier DNA analysis suggests that land-based iguanas split from their marine counterparts about 10 million years ago.

Small world

Whatever the history, Dr Gentile's team believes rosada's single population is so tiny as to put its survival in danger.

"Our studies would indicate that the population size is very small," he said.

"We only collected 36 in two years; and last year a large research team hiked up Wolf and only found 10, and most of those were ones that we'd marked earlier."

These numbers are low enough to make rosada a Critically Endangered species - if, indeed, it is a separate species from its yellow relatives.

Dr Gentile's team is now preparing a formal description of the animal, and will be asking the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the body that adjudicates on such matters, to rule that it is separate and distinct.


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Gabriele Gentile (shown here) and his colleagues collected blood samples from pink iguanas on Volcan Wolf volcano (backdrop of image) in 2005 and 2006.

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Journal Reference:
Gentile, Gabriele and Snell, Howard L. 2009. Conolophus marthae sp.nov. (Squamata, Iguanidae), A New Species of Land Iguana from the Galápagos Archipelago. Zootaxa. 2201: 1–10.

Conolophus marthae sp. nov., a new species endemic to Volcan Wolf of northern Isla Isabela of the Galápagos archipelago, is described. The new species is morphologically, behaviorally, and genetically distinguished from the other two congeneric species C. subcristatus and C. pallidus. Besides the taxonomic implications, C. marthae sp. nov. is extremely important as it is the only evidence of deep divergence within the Galápagos land iguana lineage.

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Etymology. The new species is named in memory of Martha Rebecca Gentile, second daughter of the first author. Martha prematurely left this world. She was born dead, as consequence of a medical doctor’s negligence, on August 20th 2003.

Distribution. Thus far, this species is known to occur only on Volcan Wolf (Fig. 1), the northernmost volcano of Isla Isabela (Galápagos National Park, Ecuador).

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