pink land iguana galapagos islands.

Pink land iguana. Courtesy of the Galapagos National Park.

The discovery of a new species is a pretty rare event in most parts of the world. Not so in the Galapagos Islands, it seems. Since 2009, scientists have identified twelve new species here, including at least three fish (one of which is shark), a coral, a finch, and, perhaps most surprisingly, a pink land iguana.

The Galapagos pink land iguana (Conolophus marthae) was actually first discovered on the slopes of Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island in 1986. It was only classified as a distinct species in 2009 after genetic analysis confirmed that it is, in fact, an entirely separate species from the Galapagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) that can be found throughout much of the rest of the archipelago.

Researchers believe that the species diverged from a common ancestor around 5.7 million years ago, making it one of the oldest known species divergence events in the islands.

A 2012 study concluded that the iguana’s entire range consists of about 15 square miles on the slope of the volcano and that the entire population consists of fewer than 200 individuals. For these reasons, the iguana is listed as a critically endangered species.

The ongoing discovery of new species in the Galapagos is a potent reminder of just how remarkable these islands are and how deserving they are of our lasting protection.