Galapagos Islands Widlife

Wildlife

Galapagos consists of 13 main islands and 6 smaller islands. The Galapagos Islands were first made famous as the islands that formed Charles Darwin's theory of evolution after his exploration in HMS Beagle in 1835. Now Galapagos is famous for its wildlife, especially the giant land Tortoises, that Galapagos is named after. In fact the Galapagos Islands are a living laboratory where most of the animals and birds have no fear of man. Galapagos is a wildlife paradise, where animals have no human fear. They often just ignore humans, so that you can observe them easily in their natural state.  In Galapagos you can get up close and personal with animals which would be impossible elsewhere. In the one snap-shot you can easily photo a sea lion, iguana, sally long foot, and a blue footed boobie!

Common wildlife


Reptiles

There are 27 species of reptiles found on the Galapagos divided in five families as follows: snakes, geckos, Iguanas, lava lizards and, the giant tortoises. The hot dry climate is ideal for reptiles such as the land and marine iguanas, and giant tortoises. Before the arrival of man they proliferated and some species grew into unique giant forms. The islands are also a sanctuary for the Pacific green turtles, which lay their eggs on the islands' beaches. Snakes can be found, but they are non-poisoness and harmless.

Giant Land Tortoises (Geochelone elephantopus)

The Galapagos name originates from the Saddleback tortoise meaning galápago or saddle. In the Galapagos islands there are 11 subspecies of this amazing ancient animal located on the islands.  The oldest known tortoise is at the Darwin Research Station and is about 170 year old. Giant Tortoises were almost wiped out by whalers and sailors in the 1800’s (as they were easy to catch, and a great meal after months sailing the seas).However, luckily now that are again common on many of the islands, and can be seen up close and personal in the wild especially on Santa Cruz, San Cristobel, and Isabella.  The Darwin Research station is helping to increase the current 15,000 population of giant land Tortoises with a breeding program.

Marine Turtles (Chelonia mydas)

The pacific green turtle are often seen when you are snorkeling. They mate around December-January and lay up to 100 eggs during night. The Floreana beach is one of the most popular areas for turtles laying eggs.

Marine Iguanas (Amblyrynchus cristatus)

galapagos_wildlifeThe marine iguana is the only marine lizard on earth. The species is ancient, and is now about 10 million years old! The marine iguanas are usually seen in large groups around the lava rocks. They are an amazing creature. There skin acts as camouflage. They can dive down to 20m and can stay submerged for up to one hour!  There is a sub species on Española whose skin is a shiny green and red.

Land Iguana (Conolphus pallidus or subscristatus)

The land iguana feeds on the yellow flora and fruits of the islands e.g. prickly cactus pear. The land Iguana comes in two main sub species. The Conolphus subcristatus is a yellow-orange color and is found on Santa Cruz, Plaza, Isabela and Fernandina islands. The conolphus pallidus, which is a brown and whitish color and is found only on Santa Fé.

Shoreline creatures
Crustaceans include the colorful hugely popular Sally lightfoot crab, fiddler crab, ghost crab, hermit crab and many urchins and sea-stars.

Birds


Galapagos are home for many seabirds such as frigates, Galapagos penguins, blue-footed, red-footed and Nazca (masked) boobies. Surprisingly, the bird most famous on the Galapagos is the ‘finch’.  Charles Darwin found that the thirteen species of finches had evolved into many varieties that each have a unique diet and beak to match. This became the basis for his explanations of evolution. If each island had evolved a different form of finch to be able to survive in the uniqueness of each island, so all animals must have evolved. Even the mockingbirds have split into four types. There are is two endemic owl species and a hawk that is remarkably tame.

Along the shores and lagoons are both migrants like the sanderlings, and turnstones and Galapagos residents like stilts, oystercatchers and flamingos.

 

There are about 30 types of land birds on the Galapagos islands.  70% of these are endemic (ie originating from the Galapagos. Some species can only be found on the Galapgagos islands. These include the lava gull, swallowtail gull, Galapagos penguin and the waved albatross.

Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

The Galapagos penguins are endemic only to the Galapagos islands and live and breed mainly on Isabela and Fernandina islands. Small numbers can also be found on Bartolome island and parts of Santiago Island. There is a total population of about  2000 Galapagos penguins. They are easiest seen between 5-7 am. The Galapagos penguins are the most northerly of the Penguin species.

Flightless Cormorant (Nannopetrum harrisi)

These endemic to Galapagos birds are extremely rare and are found only on the Western coasts of Fernandina and Isabela islands. They have no flying ability, and perhaps this is why they can only survive on the Galapagos islands. However, when threatened they will spread their wings and pretend they’re about to takeoff. As they are troubled by all predators, there is a theory that they have evolved into their current form as a "lazy winged bird", though they do have swimming ability.


Waved Albatross (Dimeda irrorata)

With an incredible wing span of over 2.5 meters, these are the largest birds to inhabit the Galapagos island.  They are endemic and can only found on Española island. Mating season is April to December. After this time they will hover and glide over the Pacific ocean, even as far away as Asia, before returning to Española island to once again begin their intricate breeding and courting dance rituals to attract a mate. Males will battle other fellow males for the attention of the female. However, once a mate is found they will remain in a monogamous relation with their partner.

Frigatebirds

Varieties include the Great, Magnificent Frigate bird (Fregata magnificens) and Fregata minor. These also possess extremely large wing spans. They have long forked tails with angled wings increasing their aerodynamics potential and speed levels. The Frigate bird cannot get its feather wet. It has therefore become an amazing ‘thief’. They will land or fly near to other birds and hassle them for food. In flight when another bird loses its catch, the Frigate bird will perform incredible aerobatics to recover the falling fish, catching it mid flight.  

Mating time of year is year round on North Seymour, and March to April on Genovesa and San Cristóbal islands. During this time, the Frigate bird males will display their large red sac under the throat and inflate it like balloon while frenetically moving and spreading it wings. The most impressive display will attract the female for mating. It is interesting to see later in the season, when the few males with less impressive displays are the only ones left (still trying to attract the few females without a partner).

Boobies

There are three main types of Boobies on the Galapagos islands. These are the red-footed, blue-footed and the masked booby (Nazca booby).  The Blue Footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) usually lays multi eggs while the Red footed and the Maked boobies only lay one egg per couple.  The Blue footed Booby often lays its eggs directly on the walking trails,, meaning that vistors must walk around the nest sites, only a meter or so away! The Blue Footed Booby catches the fish by sky diving and also have exquisite courtship dances.

The Red-footed booby (Sula sula) nests in trees and is a light brown colored bird with the largest colony nestled on Genovesa island.

The Masked booby also known as (Sula dactylactra) has white plumage and a black mask surrounding the eyes. This remarkable feature has lead to its name. However, a more correct name for them is the Nazca booby.

sea lions

Mammals

The main mammals on the islands are sea lions, seals and a couple of bat species. This is because the islands are separated from any other islands, and also the South American mainland. It has been extremely difficult for mammals to reach the islands. This has also been its blessing, as it means that there have not been any natural predators. However, man has arrived and now the ecosystem has been placed under threat with the man sponsored arrival of donkeys, dogs, cats, rats and goats. Most mammals are marine, such as the Galapagos sea lion and fur seal. There are several species of dolphins including the bottlenose dolphins. Many species of whales can be found in the waters surrounds the Galapagos islands including sperm, humpback, false-killer, sei, minke, Bryde's, Cuvier's beaked and blue whales.

 

Sea Lion.(Zalophus californianus)

Sea lions are a highlight for many visiting the Galapagos. There is an abundance of sea lions throughout all the Galapagos islands, and they are so unafraid of humans that they lounge on the jetties and main beaches. Literally you need to walk around them!  They are in large colonies of up to 30 females, protected by the dominate bull. He will patrol and protect their territory. Mating season is May-January and this it the time of heavy and also the occasional fight for dominance amongst the bull sea lions.

Female and young sea lions will playfully swim with you, especially while you are snorkeling. They also love to surf large waves, and are a joy to watch.

Fur Seals (Arctocephalus galapaoensis)

galapagos_wildlife2For centuries Fur seals have hunted to near extinct because of their pelts. However they have survived and the population in the Galapagos is growing steadily. The fur sea lion is much smaller than the sea lion and has larger rounded moist eyes and pointed noses. Unlike the sea lion, they also have ears.

 

Fish life

Many visitors find the underwater even more remarkable than the land. There are many species of rays and sharks (it is very safe to swim and snorkel with them in Galapagos) There is MANY colorful reef fish can be seen like the king angle and parrotfish. This is over 400 species of fish roaming the waters of the Galapagos islands. Amazingly about 17% endemic to this area only.

Examples of the varied marine life include 12 species of sharks (even these appear to have taken the Galapagos spirit, with no known shark attacks on man). The most common include the tiger shark, black-tip shark and the whale and gray reef shark. There are 2 species of hammerheads, and 5 species of rays (stingrays, golden ray, marbled ray, spotted eagle ray and manta rays). Dolphins and whales frequent the waters.  Whales include the Brydes whales, pilot whale, Minke whale, blue whale and Cuviers whale who traverse all the islands. Fernandina and Isabela Islands are considered hot spots for viewing whales.