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Thanks to Charles Johnson at littlegreenfootballs blog for link. Small photo
Pink Iguana That Darwin Missed Holds Evolutionary Surprise
By Alexis Madrigal January 05, 2009 | 3:25:25
For iguanas, it turns out that it's not easy being pink, either.
Biologists report that a rare type of pink iguana found on a single volcano in
the Galapagos Islands is a genetically-distinct species from its green cousins
â and that it's probably critically endangered.
"This form, which we recognize as a good species, is very important because it
carries substantial evolutionary legacy," the authors of a new paper in the
journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences wrote. "Thus far the
rosada form is the only evidence of deep diversification along the Galapagos
land iguana lineage."
Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos islands in 1835 but didn't make it to the
northernmost volcano, Volcan Wolf, which is the lone habitat for these pink
lizards. Later travelers and scholars also seem to have missed or failed to
report the curiously striped creature until 1986 when some Galapagos National
Park rangers spotted the animals. Still, no scientists had looked into whether
they represented a distinct species until now.
What they found was surprising. Instead of being some slight variation on the
Galapagos iguana theme, the pink lizards represent a distinct and early branch
of the genetic tree. The genomic analysis of the species suggests that they
broke from other iguanas about five million years ago, much deeper in history
than most other Galapagos species, like Darwin's finches. In addition to the
genetic differences, the pink iguanas also perform the characteristic mating
ritual "head-bob" differently.
The iguana and other animals on Volcan Wolf are threatened by an "invasion of
feral goats" that are devastating the area's natural flora.
In the interest of preserving this genetic diversity, the biologists wrote that
"a conservation program aimed at evaluating the risk of extinction of this
newly recognized species," should be initiated. They estimate that the iguana
could already by termed "critically endangered."
Citation: "An overlooked pink species of land iguana in the Galapagos" by
Gabriele Gentile, Anna Fabiani, Cruz Marquez, Howard L. Snell, Heidi M. Snell,
Washington Tapia, and Valerio Sbordonia in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0806339106