Unique Facts About the Wildlife of Galapagos
Most nature lovers who embark on wildlife holidays in Galapagos are familiar with the archipelago’s most iconic wildlife species, which include the Giant Tortoise, the Lava Lizard, the Marine Iguana, the Galapagos Sea Lion and the Blue-Footed Booby.
But while the wildlife has been studied and documented extensively, from Darwin’s first forays to the scientists who actively work to ensure its conservation into modern times, there are also some lesser-known facts about these wonderfully unique species. For anyone planning wildlife holidays in Galapagos, knowing a few of these before the trip may add another dimension to an already fascinating encounter.
Did You Know?
• The Marine Iguanas found in abundance throughout the archipelago are the world’s only species of marine lizard. The white appearance often seen around their faces is caused by the expulsion of salt from specially adapted glands in their nostrils, which dries and creates a “wig” effect.
• The Galapagos Penguin is the smallest in the world and the only one found north of the Equator. The combination of the cold waters of the Humboldt and Cromwell ocean currents mean it is able to survive in the warmer climate.
• With an average life span of well over a century, the Giant Tortoise lives longer than almost any other vertebrate on the planet. They continue to grow for up to 40 years and can reach a length of over 1.5m and a weight of up to 250kg.
• The most common of all the mammals throughout the islands is the sea lion. The chance to swim and snorkel amongst the curious sea lions is also one of the most sought-after encounters on wildlife holidays in Galapagos. Particularly large colonies are found on Santa Cruz, Isabela and Espanola.
• The Green Sea Turtle found in the waters around the archipelago is a species so old it has been around since before the time of the dinosaurs.
• There are five species of snakes and all of them are endemic to the dry zones of certain islands – although some islands have none. All the species are relatively small (under a metre) and are known as “racers”, due to their ability to move extremely fast. Their only natural predator is the Galapagos Hawk.
• There are four species of boobies that make the islands home. The Blue-footed Booby is renowned for its unique mating dance, where it lifts its feet and wave them in the air, appearing to “dance”, and the Red-footed Booby is the only one to make its nest in the trees and not the ground. The Nazcar Booby is the largest species, while the Masked Booby lives mainly out in the open ocean, returning to land only to breed.
• The Waved Albatross mates for life. There are over 12,000 breeding pairs on the archipelago, which represents the majority of its global population. While the birds depart the islands from December to April, they return to the same place and the same partner every year to breed.
• The term “Darwin’s Finches” actually refers to 15 different species of finches. While their bodies and colouring make them similar in appearance, each has a distinctly different, specially adapted beak.
Wildlife holidays in Galapagos offer a privileged opportunity for nature lovers to experience a truly once-in-a-lifetime encounter with some of the most incredible and unique animals on Earth. And, in this remote and beautiful part of the planet, researchers and naturalists are still learning just how astounding many of them really are. Author Plate