Chelonoidis phantasticus (Van Denburgh, 1907:4)

Fernandina Island giant tortoise, Narborough Island giant tortoise, Fernandina giant tortoise



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Testudo phantasticus Van Denburgh, 1907:4 (original combination); Chelonoidis niger phantasticus (Van Denburgh 1907); Chelonoidis nigra phantastica (Van Denburgh, 1907); Geochelone elephantopus phantastica (Van Denburgh, 1907); Geochelone nigra phantastica (Van Denburgh, 1907); Testudo elephantopus phantastica (Van Denburgh 1907)


Conservation Status

Last record: 3 April 1906 (holotype collected) (Van Denburgh, 1907); 1964 (tortoise scat and cactus damage found) (Snow, 1964; Hendrickson, 1965); early 2000's (scat) (Jensen et al., 2022); 2009 (possible aerial sighting) (Rhodin et al., 2017); 2013 (possibly scat and footprints) (Rhodin et al., 2017); 2014 (possible scat) (Jensen et al., 2022)

Relocated in 2019 (genetic confirmation by Jensen et al., 2022)

IUCN RedList status: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)


The Fernandina Island giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) was long known only from the male holotype collected on 3 April 1906 (Van Denburgh, 1907). Numerous instances of indirect evidence/anecdotal sightings were made over the following decades (Snow, 1964; Hendrickson, 1965; Rhodin et al., 2017; Jensen et al., 2022). But there had been no exhaustive surveys on the island to either confirm or deny these anecdotal reports, so the listing of the species as "Possibly Extinct" by the IUCN RedList (i.e. Rhodin et al., 2017) were premature. A female nicknamed Fernanda was discovered in 2019 (Jensen et al., 2022), but no other C. phantasticus individuals have been found to date despite further targeted surveys that have found indirect signs of up to a few individuals, suggesting the population is small (or even tiny) and vulnerable. Further surveys are required to better understand the species' current situation, and especially to consider the future of Fernanda who was removed from Fernandina Island.



Fernandina Island (=Narborough Island), Galápagos Islands, Ecuador


Biology & Ecology




Only known from the holotype collected by R. H. Beck on the 3rd of April, 1906, as part of the 1905-6 California Academy of Sciences expedition.





Original scientific description:

Van Denburgh, John (1907). Preliminary descriptions of four new races of gigantic land tortoises from the Galapagos Islands. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (4) 1: 1-6.


Other references:

Caccone, A. Powell, J. (2009) Giant Tortoises. Mapping their Genetic Past and Future. In: T. De Roy (ed.): Galápagos. Preserving Darwin´s Legacy. Bateman, Albany, New Zealand, p. 98-105.

Day, David. (1981). The Doomsday Book of Animals: A Natural History of Vanished Species. New York, N.Y.: The Viking Press.

Ernst, C. H. and Barbour, R. W. (1989). Turtles of the world. Smithsonian Inst. Press. 313 pp.

Fritts, T.H. (2001) A brief review of the taxonomic history of Galapagos Tortoise relevant to consideration of the most appropiate generic and specifc name for Giant Tortoises in Galapagos. U.S. Geological survey Report, 7 pp.

Fritz, U. and Havas, P. 2007. Checklist of chelonians of the world. Vertebrate Zoology 57(2): 149-368.

Gaughran, Stephen J. et al. (2023). Whole-genome sequencing confirms multiple species of Galapagos giant tortoises. bioRxiv preprint.

Hendrickson, J. R. (1965). Reptiles of the Galápagos. Pacific Discovery 18(5): 28-36.

Jensen, Evelyn L. et al. (2022). The Galapagos giant tortoise Chelonoidis phantasticus is not extinct. Communications Biology 5: 546.

Jiménez-Uzcátegui, G. Milstead, B., Márquez, C., Zabala, J., Buitrón, P., Llerena, A., et al. (2007) Galapagos vertebrates: endangered status and conservation actions. Galapagos Report 2006–2007. Charles Darwin Foundation, Puerto Ayora, p. 104–110.

MacFarland, Craig G., Villa, José and Toro, Basilio. (1974). The Galápagos giant tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus) part II: conservation methods. Biological Conservation 6(2): 198-212.

Márquez, C. Wiedenfeld, D.A., Snell, H.L., Fritts, T., MacFarland, C., Tapia, W., & Naranjo, S. (2004) Population status of Giant Land Tortoises (Geochelone spp., Chelonya: Testudinae) from the Galapagos Islands. Ecología Aplicada 3(1-2): 98-111.

Poulakakis, N. Glaberman, S., Russello, M., Beheregaray, L.B., Ciofi, C., Powell, J.R. & Caccone, A. (2008). Historical DNA analysis reveals living descendants of an extinct species of Galápagos tortoise. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. (PNAS) 105(49): 15464-15469.

Poulakakis, N. et al. (2012). Unravelling the peculiarities of island life: vicariance, dispersal, and the diversification of the extinct and extant giant Galápagos tortoises. Molecular Ecology 21: 160-173.

Pritchard, Peter Charles Howard. (1996). The Galápagos tortoises: Nomenclatural and Survival Status. Chelonian Research Monographs 1: 1-85. Published by the Chelonian Research Foundation.

Regalado, Pedro Galán. (2015). Los Anfibios y Reptiles Extinguidos: Herpetofauna Desaparecida Desde el Año 1500. Monografías de la Universidade da Coruña 155: 1-509.

Rhodin, A.G.J., Gibbs, J.P., Cayot, L.J., Kiester, A.R. & Tapia, W. 2017a. Chelonoidis phantasticus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T170517A1315907. Downloaded on 16 December 2017.

Rhodin, A.G.J., Gibbs, J.P., Cayot, L.J., Kiester, A.R. & Tapia, W. 2017b. Chelonoidis phantasticus (errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T170517A128969920. Downloaded on 22 February 2019.

Snell, H.L. Tye, A., Causton, C.E. & Bensted-Smith, R. (1999) Estado y amenazas de la biodiversidad terretre de Galápagos. Visión para la biodiversidad de las islas Galápagos. Fundación Charles Darwin para las islas Galápagos y WWF. Puerto Ayora, Galápagos.

Snow, D. W. (1964). The Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. Oryx 7: 277-290.

Steadman, David W., Stafford, Thomas W. Jnr., Donahue, Douglas J. and Jull, A. J. Timothy. (1991). Chronology of Holocene vertebrate extinction in the Galápagos Islands. Quaternary Research 36(1): 126-133.

Swingland, I. R. (1989). Geochelone elephantopus. Galapagos giant tortoises. In: Swingland I.R. and Klemens M.W. (eds.) The conservation biology of tortoises. Occasional Papers of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), No. 5, pp. 24–28. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Townsend, C. H. (1925). The Galapagos tortoises in their relation to the whaling industry: a study of old logbooks. Zoologica 4(3): 55-135.

Turtle Conservation Coalition [Stanford, C.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., van Dijk, P.P., Horne, B.D., Blanck, T., Goode, E.V., Hudson, R., Mittermeier, R.A., Currylow, A., Eisemberg, C., Frankel, M., Georges, A., Gibbons, P.M., Juvik, J.O., Kuchling, G., Luiselli, L., Shi, H., Singh, S., and Walde, A. (Eds.)]. (2018). Turtles in Trouble: Te World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2018. Ojai, CA: IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservation Fund, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Global Wildlife Conservation. 80 pp.

Turtle Extinctions Working Group et al. (2015). Turtles and Tortoises of the World During the Rise and Global Spread of Humanity: First Checklist and Review of Extinct Pleistocene and Holocene Chelonians. Chelonian Research Monographs No. 5: 1-66.

TTWG [Turtle Taxonomy Working Group: Bickham, J.W., Iverson, J.B., Parham, J.F., Philippen, H.D., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B., Spinks, P.Q. and van Dijk, P.P.]. 2007. An annotated list of modern turtle terminal taxa with comments on areas of taxonomic instability and recent change. In: H.B. Shaffer, N.N. FitzSimmons, A. Georges, and A.G.J. Rhodin (eds), Defining Turtle Diversity: Proceedings of a Workshop on Genetics, Ethics, and Taxonomy of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises. Chelonian Research Monographs 4: 173-199.

TTWG [Turtle Taxonomy Working Group: van Dijk, P.P., Iverson, J.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., Shaffer, H.B. and Bour, R.]. 2014. Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7): 000.329-479, doi:10.3854/crm.5.000.checklist.v7.2014.

Peter Paul van Dijk, John B. Iverson, Anders G.J. Rhodin,H. Bradley Shaffer, and Roger Bour. (2014). Turtles of the World, 7th Edition: Annotated Checklist of Taxonomy, Synonymy, Distribution with Maps, and Conservation Status. 000.v7. Chelonian Research Monographs (ISSN 1088-7105) No. 5.

Van Denburgh, J. (1914). The gigantic land tortoises of the Galapagos archipelago. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, Series 42(1): 203-374.


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