Photo: Galapagos tortoise
A pre-historic tortoise that lived in the Brazilian Amazon is the most likely ancestor of the tortoises that live in Ecuador’s Galapagos archipelago today, paleontologists said.
The pre-historic chelonoidis, the largest member of its genus discovered in the world, was reconstructed by paleontologists at Brazil’s Universidad Federal de Acre, or UFAC, using fossils found in the Amazon in 1995 and not analyzed until now.
“We invested nearly two years of work to reconstruct the animal like it was originally, despite the fact that we had the complete lower part of the carapace and nearly 60 percent of the upper part of the carapace,” zoologist Edson Guilherme, the UFAC researcher who coordinated the project, told Efe.
The researchers constructed a tortoise made of stone, plaster and foam.
The pre-historic tortoises lived in the Amazon about 8 million years ago and were similar to those inhabiting the Pacific islands off Ecuador today.
Giant chelonoidis fossils were found in other countries in South America, but none were as large as the ones discovered in Acre, a state in Brazil’s extreme west that borders Bolivia, Guilherme said.
A preliminary analysis indicates that the animal was a member of the genus chelonoidis that lived in the Miocene period, the scientist said.
“A very similar species exists that has already been described in Argentina, but we do not know if ours is of the same species or of another. Anatomical studies are still needed to identify its species,” Guilherme said.
The tortoise found in Acre was twice the size of today’s Galapagos tortoises, the zoologist said.
The Galapagos Islands are located about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) west of the coast of continental Ecuador and were declared a World Natural Heritage Site in 1978.
Some 95 percent of the territory’s 8,000 sq. kilometers (a little over 3,000 sq. miles) constitutes a protected area that is home to more than 50 species of animals and birds found nowhere else on the planet.
The islands were made famous by 19th-century British naturalist Charles Darwin, whose observations of life on the islands contributed greatly to his theory of the evolution of species.