Real Lost Worlds – The Seychelles Islands

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  • Wednesday, February 6, 2013
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  • By Warren Fahy

    Islands and other isolated ecosystems such as caves are well known evolutionary laboratories. The premise of my novels, Fragment and the upcoming sequel Pandemonium, considers what would happen if those experiments were given hundreds of millions of years to produce new species. We now know that once isolated worlds do not become frozen in time as once imagined by author Arthur Conan Doyle in The Lost World. Instead, species continue to adapt and evolve after they become isolated, and the results of this genetic drift are often astonishing. One ancient, isolated group of islands is most recognizable from its granite shores, which distinguish them from the volcanic isles more commonly encountered in the deep ocean. The age of these islands can easily be seen the extreme and sculptural weathering of the islands’ rocky shores.

    Granite shores...

    Separated from Africa 65 million years ago during the last days of the dinosaurs, the Seychelles remained unknown to Westerners until the 1500s. Yet they had one clue that they must exist: the provocative fruit of the Coco de Mer, the largest seed in the world, which resembled a female to sailors who found them floating for centuries before their source was discovered. Believed to be a fruit from the Garden of Eden, the mysterious nut was prized and even encrusted with gold and gems as gifts to royalty.

    The Coco de Mer fruit

    When westerners finally discovered the strange tree that produces the famous seed, which could never be germinated after it was found in the sea, they were shocked. The male stamen of the plant was even more indiscreet in appearance, measuring seven-feet long. A whole ecosystem of animals has evolved to live just on the stamen of the Coco de Mer tree.

    Most of the plants and animals of the Seychelles are unique, unprecedented, and vary from island to island. The tiny frogs of the islands must have been evolving separately since the land was separated from Africa since frogs cannot survive saltwater. No bigger than ants, they are the only frogs in the world to develop through the polliwog stage while still inside the egg, hatching as fully-grown—if microscopic—adults. They are the smallest vertebrates in the world.

    The smallest vertebrate

    Like the Galapagos but not as well known, the Seychelles are another location where tortoises, unmolested by predators, have evolved into giants that live over a hundred years. One of them, named Adwaita, is said to have lived for 255 years in a zoo in India. Since they congregate in huge groups to mate and have no natural predators, they appear to have no limitations on their life span (something scientist Geoffrey Binswanger from Fragment discusses in the novel!).

    The oldest animal?

    Next time, we’ll visit another real-life lost world...


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