Pink Land-Iguana

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Iguanidae | Conolophus marthae

English common names: Pink Land-Iguana, Pink Iguana, Galápagos Pink Iguana, Martha's Land-Iguana.

Spanish common names: Iguana rosada, iguana de Martha.

Recognition: ♂♂ 108.4 cm ♀♀ 77.4 cm. The Pink Iguana (Conolophus marthae) is one of two species of iguanas occurring on and around Wolf Volcano on northern Isabela Island. The other species is the Galápagos Land-Iguana (C. subcristatus), which lacks the distinctive pink coloration of C. marthae.

Natural history: Locally frequent. Conolophus marthae is a diurnal and terrestrial iguana inhabiting the dry grasslands and deciduous forests of Wolf Volcano,1 where it lives side by side with the Galápagos Land-Iguana (C. subcristatus). Adults of the Pink Land-Iguana are most active during sunny weather,1 basking at ground level close to their 2–3 m deep burrows, to which they frantically retreat if threatened.1,2 At night and on cold days, they hide in these same burrows.1 Their diet is made up of both native and introduced plants, including mostly (~48%) shrubs, but also herbs (~37%), grasses, and cacti.2 Potential predators of young Pink Land-Iguanas include feral cats, rats, and hawks.3 When cornered, individuals of C. marthae bite and strike with the tail.1 Adult males defend their territories by bobbing their heads or fighting with intruders.1,4 Gravid females contain 4–7 eggs and presumably lay them at the end of the rainy season.5,6 Hatchlings and juveniles have yet to be documented.

Special thanks to Nicolas Devos and Mike McAteer, our two official protectors of the Pink Land-Iguana, for symbolically adopting this species and helping bring the Reptiles of Galápagos project to life.


#ReptilesofGalápagosBook

Purchase the Reptiles of Galápagos book

Conservation: Critically Endangered.6 Conolophus marthae is listed in this category because there is only one population composed of approximately 192 mature individuals; furthermore, it is limited to an area less than 10.9 km2. Pink Land-Iguanas face several threats including predation of eggs and hatchlings by introduced predators and competition with the co-occurring Galápagos Land-Iguana (C. subcristatus). Volcanic eruptions are also a serious threat to the species.5,6 Wolf Volcano is in constant activity, with its last eruption recorded in May 2015. Perhaps the most worrisome observation regarding the Pink Land-Iguana is that there are no records of juveniles in the wild; thus, the long-term viability of the species is in question and a captive breeding program should be seriously considered.

Distribution: The Pink Iguana is endemic to an estimated 10.9 km2 area on the northern slopes of Wolf Volcano on northern Isabela Island. Galápagos, Ecuador.

Distribution of Conolophus marthae Distribution of Conolophus marthae in western Galápagos

Etymology: The generic name Conolophus, which comes from the Greek words konos (meaning “cone”) and lophos (meaning “crest”),7 refers to the cone-like scales that compose the dorsal crest in species of this genus. The specific epithet marthae honors Martha Rebecca Gentile, the second daughter of Gabriele Gentile, one of the biologists who described the Pink Land-Iguana.4

See it in the wild: The only known population of Conolophus marthae is located on a remote volcano inaccessible to tourism. Researchers and members of the Galápagos National Park may visit the habitat of the Pink Land-Iguana, but only in the context of a scientific expedition or a conservation action.

FAQ

How many pink iguanas are left? The most recent published conservation assessment6 of Pink Iguanas estimates their total population to be 192 mature individuals.

Why is the pink iguana pink? Although the reason behind the Pink Iguana’s color is not fully understood, it is believed to be at least partially caused by the absence of skin pigmentation combined with a high number of anomalies in the nucleus of their red blood cells.8 These anomalies are thought to play a role in protecting the iguanas against the extreme solar radiation at the top of Wolf Volcano, which reaches 1,707 m above sea level and is located right on the Earth's equator.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. and Juan M GuayasaminbAffiliation: Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: Galapagos Science Center, Galápagos, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewer. Miguel Vences.

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Guayasamin JM (2020) Conolophus marthae. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: www.tropicalherping.com

Literature cited:

Andando Tours logoThis species account of the Pink Land-Iguana (Conolophus marthae) is available for free online thanks to the support of Andando Tours.

Andando Tours logo

  1. Tropical Herping field notes.
  2. Field notes of Washington Tapia.
  3. Márquez CM, Muñoz EA, Gentile G, Tapia WH, Zabala FJ, Naranjo SA, Llerena AJ (2010) Estado poblacional de las iguanas terrestres (Conolophus subcristatus, C. pallidus, y C. marthae: Squamata, Iguanidae), Islas Galápagos. Boletín Técnico, Serie Zoológica 6: 25–43.
  4. Gentile G, Snell HL (2009) Conolophus marthae sp.nov. (Squamata, Iguanidae), a new species of land iguana from the Galápagos Archipelago. Zootaxa 2201: 1–10.
  5. Gentile G, Márquez C, Snell HL, Tapia W, Izurieta A (2016) Conservation of a new flagship species: the Galápagos Pink Land Iguana (Conolophus marthae Gentile and Snell, 2009). In: Angelici F (Ed) Problematic Wildlife. Springer International Publishing, Cham, 314–336.
  6. Gentile G (2012) Conolophus marthae. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: www.iucnredlist.org
  7. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.
  8. Gustavino B, Terrinoni S, Paglierani C, Gentile G (2014) Conolophus marthae vs. C. subcristatus: does the skin pigmentation pattern exert a protective role against DNA damaging effect induced by UV light exposure? Analysis of blood smears through the micronucleus test. IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group Meeting, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador.