A pink iguana

The mystery of the pink iguanas

The eruption of the Galapagos Islands’ Wolf Volcano this week made headline news around the world, not least because it was the first time in more than 30 years that the volcano has been active.

Fortunately, there was no risk to human life: the nearest settlement to the volcano on the island of Isabela is the small town of Puerto Villamil, a good 70 miles away. However, there has been much concern about the effect the volcanic activity could have on a unique species of pink iguana which inhabit the northern face of Wolf Volcano. The internet was suddenly abuzz about the future of these colorful creatures. But what exactly do we know about this mythical-sounding species?

First of all, they are far from mythical – evidence suggests that the pink iguana diverged from its more well-known relative, the Galapagos land iguana, as long as 5.7 million years ago. The Conolophus marthae is a species of land iguana which has become known as the pink iguana (or iguana rosada) thanks to the pinkish color of its body, interspersed with black stripes. It was first discovered in 1986 but it was only as recently as 2009 that it was identified as a separate species from the Galapagos land iguana. It is native only to northern Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago.

Less than 100 Conolophus marthae are known to exist, though, as there has been no formal identification of the species’ population, there are no exact figures. It has been recommended that they should be considered a critically endangered species.

Thankfully it seems that the lava flow from Wolf Volcano has headed in the opposite direction from the iguanas’ habitat and they are safe – for now.  

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Photo credit: W. Tapia, GNPD.