Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Eleven species of giant tortoise are found throughout the Galapagos Islands.
The (Lonesome George) Pinta tortoise is one of the smaller species.

Image: BBC News.

Do you remember “Lonesome George”; the male giant Galapagos tortoise from the island of Pinta? Well, it appears that he is not so lonesome afterall, since researchers discovered a first-generation hybrid between a Pinta tortoise and a tortoise from Isabela isle. This hybrid, which shares half of its genes with George, was discovered on Isabela.

Because of this hybrid’s parentage, it is possible that a more thorough sampling of the 2,000 tortoises living on Isabela could yet reveal a genetically pure Pinta tortoise, said the researchers. But even if they did find one, getting George to mate with it could be an uphill struggle because he appears to be gay.

After 35 years of living in captivity with two female giant Galapagos tortoises from the island of Isabela, Lonesome George failed to produce any offspring. But George is a member of the species Geochelone abingdoni while his consorts were from the species Geochelone becki. He lived with these females at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz.

But they are capable of producing hybrids. According to genetic analyses, one tortoise from Isabela Island is clearly a first-generation hybrid between native tortoises from the islands of Isabela and Pinta. This tortoise is also a male, like George.

“It is surprising to find a hybrid on Isabela. It raises questions about how it got there,” said Henry Nicholls, who wrote a biography of the octogenarian tortoise called Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon.

According to Nicholls, none of the prevailing sea currents would be capable of carrying tortoises from Pinta to Isabela. But any project to search for a pure Pinta tortoise on Isabela, or other hybrids, would be expensive and time-consuming.

Cited story.


  1. #1 Library Diva
    April 30, 2007

    This made my day! I read a book about giant tortoises last winter (I wish I could remember what it was called) and learned about Lonesome George. The thought of him made me terribly sad. I’m glad to know he’s not alone out there after all.

  2. #2 Diane in Ohio
    May 1, 2007

    If I remember these turtle live along time…would “cloning” be advantages in this case? A few jrs and george lives on longer….just a thought?!

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