Been dazed and confused for so long, it’s not true

–Jake Grier Holmes, Jr. 1967 (not Jimmy Page 1968)

Biologists hunted through archives and Civil War era records, searched for specimens in jars in the back rooms of museums, and dealt with paperwork and stored specimens lost in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake to do a genetic analysis and establish that the desert tortoise of the southwestern US and northwest Mexico is actually two species and possibly more. The California and Nevada populations retain their original name, Agassiz’s land tortoise, Gopherus agassizi while the Arizona and Mexican population is named Morafka’s land tortoise, Gopherus morafki. The records were really spotty (heck, the date of the original species description was found to be off by two years) but the researchers appear to have really figured things out. I’ve helped get tortoise tissue samples for disease research for one of the authors, Kristen Berry, and she is a really incredible scientist.

The USGS has a nice article about the differences in the new species and the scientific paper is actually a really interesting insight into the history of scientific exploration of the West in the 19th century. Plus, there are really cool pictures of the specimens!