The first week of March saw animal enthusiasts all over the world gather to celebrate the beauty that is Earth’s wildlife. Naturally, being proud of our home in the Galapagos Islands, we wanted to share the animals that are endemic to these enchanted islands.
The Marine Iguana
Believed to have originated from South America, these iguanas landed on Galapagos shores millions of years ago and gradually evolved to suit their new environment. They are the only breed of iguana that can hunt and survive in the water; other iguanas live strictly on land and swim only if absolutely necessary.
As the land provided limited food options, the marine iguanas took to the seas so they could find additional food sources such as algae. Eventually, over time, they learnt how to breathe underwater and dive (they can reach depths of around 30 feet). As ocean water can be incredibly cold, the marine iguanas developed black/grey skins, which absorb the heat from the sun quicker. However, during mating season they still turn a fabulous green or red colour.
The Galapagos Islands received its name from this beautiful animal, and it has become the most iconic animal in the region. These Giant Tortoises are the largest in the world, and tremendous efforts have been put in place to ensure their preservation. Though they have no natural predator, they have been subject to human brutality and exploitation, which has led to the Galapagos Conservancy creating a refuge and breeding ground for these beloved animals.
Giant Tortoises are the longest-living vertebrates in the world, and there are two specific breeds in the Galapagos Islands – ones with dome-shaped shells and ones with saddle-shaped shells. The former is more common in the high lands where vegetation is plentiful and within easy reach. The latter lives on the arid islands, and as a result of periods of drought, has a longer neck and more room to extend, allowing the tortoise to reach higher vegetation, such as cactus pads.
Due to the incredible efforts of the Galapagos Conservancy, and other non-profit organisations, the number of tortoises in the region is now on the rebound with 11 of the 15 original breeds living across the islands.
Galapagos Tropical Penguin
As the second smallest penguin in the world, these cute little animals are the only penguins that are found north of the equator. They are also the only species without an exact breeding season. Like other penguins, they mate for life. But due to their environment, they live in caves and crevices instead of soft peats.
As their survival is highly dependant on the climate and the eco-system, the Galapagos Penguin has been declared an endangered animal with just over 2,000 birds on record. However, their numbers are believed to be improving.
These playful little penguins are often found in Isabela and Fernandina, but can also be seen in Santiago, Bartolome and Floreana. They live and breed in the Galapagos Islands all year round.
Regardless of your option about birds, the flightless cormorant is an evolutionary marvel. Upon discovering the Galapagos Islands and these birds, Darwin was utterly baffled as to why they do not fly. After all, all the other species of cormorant around the world have this ability.
After some research, it was found that their ancestors could fly; however, after reaching the Galapagos Islands, this particular breed lost their ability over time as the need to escape predators disappeared.
Instead, their body became streamlined with a long hooked bill allowing them to hunt and paddle in the ocean.
Sadly, as non-native species, such as cats and pigs, arrived on the islands and stole their eggs, the flightless cormorant fell onto the endangered list with there only being around 1000 left. They are one of the rarest birds in the world and can be seen nesting in Fernandina and Isabela.
Often referred to as Darwin’s Finches, it is not just one species that we are referring to here, but a total of thirteen unique breeds, all of which are endemic to the Galapagos Islands.
All thirteen species have similar colouring and body types, but each one has a totally different beak. Depending on the island, the finches beak structure varies in accordance with the food sources available to them. It is a prime example of natural selection and how evolution can take place amongst species during periods of isolation.
The most famous breed is the vampire finch, which developed a sharp beak enabling it to peck at reptile skin, insects and even blood.
Galapagos Fur Seal
Probably the most popular of the Galapagos animals, the Galapagos fur seal is the smallest species of fur seal in the world and are more closely related to sea lions. They have thick black fur and little ears. They are known for their loud barking and often live in colonies.
During any trip to the Galapagos Islands, you will find these playful animals in abundance. As they have no natural predator, they are more curious and adventurous. Don’t be surprised if a baby seal comes along to have a look at you, or swims beside you.
They have a highly complex and interesting family life, but I’ll let your guide tell you about that, and on some of the islands, you will find baby seal kindergartens.
Other Famous Galapagos Islands Animals
So those are the animals endemic to the Galapagos Islands. However, during your trip you will discover so much wildlife that you have never seen before. From Red- and Blue-Footed Boobys to Reef Sharks to vegetation you didn’t even think possible. The Galapagos Islands is a refuge for thousands of species, and each one lives in perfect harmony with this eco-system.
It truly is something you have to see for yourself.