Unique Wildlife to Spot in the Galapagos
When Charles Darwin first set sail for the Galapagos, he intended for the trip to be just two years. So fascinated was he with the wildlife he found that the excursion lasted more than twice as long. In the meantime, he had helped develop and refine some of the most important theories in the realm of biology, based on the animals he encountered on the island. Today, visitors can learn what so captivated Darwin, and see some of the most unique and stunning animals on the planet. Here are some of the creatures that you might encounter during your fully customizable trip to the Galapagos Islands.
While they are first notable for their eye-catching coloring, marine iguanas boast an ability that makes them unique among extant lizards: the ability to forage in the sea. Sparse vegetation may have made this a skill of necessity, forcing the creatures to hunt for and eat seaweed. They are capable of diving up to 30 feet at a time, and have a special nasal gland that allows them to filter out excess salt during meals. Other evolutionary adaptations include blunt noses for effective grazing, flattened tails for improved swimming and strong limbs and claws for efficiently climbing rocks.
Marine iguanas can generally be spotted on the rocky shore to keep warm, but can also occasionally be found in marshes and mangrove beaches.
Unsurprisingly, the most striking thing about these birds is right in the name: their distinctive blue feet. While these bright appendages have long delighted travelers and ornithologists, they also have an important evolutionary purpose: showing how healthy one of the species is. The brighter the webbing, the stronger the bird generally is, so males will show off their feet to females to prove that they will produce viable offspring.
Like many other seabirds, boobies are slightly awkward on land, giving them an oaf-like charm to observers. They also show relatively little fear of human interaction, and are willing to play and interact with visitors without reservation.
There are many species of wild penguins in the world, but only one that lives about the equator: the Galapagos penguin. The cool temperatures from the Humboldt Current allow them to survive, and the cold water from the Cromwell Current gives them a suitable habitat in which to feed and form families.
The second-smallest penguin in the world, they grow to just 19 inches and 5.5 pounds, meaning they could easily be nestled in your hands. Like their brethren in the Southern Hemisphere, they form strong pair bonds that can last for their entire lives.
No discussion of the fauna of the Galapagos is complete without the giant tortoise, one the animals most strongly and consistently associated with the island. They only exist there and in Aldabra in the Indian Ocean, making Galapagos cruises one of just two opportunities to see these great beasts in their natural habitat.
These tortoises can grow to be nearly half a ton, and have life spans of over 100 years in the wild. There are some differences among populations on different parts of the archipelago, as on islands with humid highlands, tortoises have domed shells and shorter necks. In lowlands, their necks are longer and they feature “saddleback” shells. This particular phenotypic distinction was a key in helping Darwin further his theory of evolution.