January 5, 2009—A new species of Galápagos iguana has scientists tickled pink.
The pink iguana, named after its salmon-colored skin, lives only on the Wolf volcano on the island of Isabela.
Charles Darwin did not visit the volcano on his travels to the Ecuadorian island chains in the 1830s, so the creature remained undiscovered until 1986, when it was spotted by park rangers. Only now has it been recognized as its own species.
Gabriele Gentile, of Rome's University Tor Vergata, and colleagues are the first team to research and document the iguana, which will receive a formal scientific name in an upcoming paper.
"What's surprising is that a new species of megafauna, like a large lizard, may still be [found] in a well-studied archipelago," Gentile told National Geographic News.
(See a new iguana found in Fiji.)
The team's genetic analyses, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the animal split off from other iguanas about five million years ago—the most ancient divergence of iguanas ever found.
The discovery ends an "evolutionary silence" of about nine million years, Gentile said.
That's because researchers didn't know what had happened between 10.5 million years ago, when land and marine iguanas split off, and a million years ago, when land iguanas apparently diverged into several species.
The pink iguana's future, however, isn't so rosy: Gentile and colleagues say the animal's population is "alarmingly small."
Feral cats introduced to the island may be eating the young reptiles, and goats may be competitors for food, Gentile said.
"We desperately need more funds to keep on doing our best to investigate and protect this newly recognized species," Gentile added, "before it becomes extinct."