Shell Shocker

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Chelonoidis donfaustoi. Galapagos National Park

Chelonoidis donfaustoi. Galapagos National Park/DPNG

Meet Chelonoidis donfaustoi, a newly identified species of tortoise found only on the Galápagos Islands and, as it turns out, in UW-Madison’s Zoological Museum. The UW has one of the world’s largest collections of skeletons and skeletal fragments from the islands. Scientists at Yale University studied DNA samples from one of the UW’s tortoise skulls and found that it was genetically distinct from other species. The university has only a skull and a scute (a scale from the animal’s shell) from a C. donfaustoi, and yet these constitute the most complete skeletal representation anywhere. These samples were declared the species’ holotype — that is, the physical example that all others will be compared to. Curator Laura Monahan ’02 says the museum has about half a million specimens, but only “something like eight of them are holotypes.”

Published in the Spring 2016 issue

Tags: Environment, International, Research, Science

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