Top Ten Galapagos Islands Animals

Inspired by Galapagos Islands Animals

The wildlife of the Galapagos Islands has a lore all its own. It was a visit to these remote islands that inspired Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Since Darwin’s time, these far-flung Ecuadorian islands have become one of the world’s top destinations for wildlife watching. It’s difficult to establish a must-see list of Galapagos Islands animals, but here’s my top ten.

10 – Sally Lightfoot Crab

An image of a Sally Lightfoot Crab in the Galapagos Islands

These coastal scavengers play an important environmental role by cleaning up organic debris on beaches and shorelines.

The “red rock crab” can be found on rocks and in shallow water near shorelines. They are very agile and it’s rumored that they were named for an equally agile Caribbean dancer. Their colors are very vibrant and adult crabs have blue and red coloring on their shells.

9 – Galapagos Land Iguana

An image of a Galapagos Land Iguana in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos land iguana looks absolutely prehistoric. It is endemic to the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos land iguana looks like a tiny dragon or some other mythical creature. It is endemic to the Galapagos Islands, but their numbers have drastically declined since Darwin’s time.

An image of a Galapagos Land Iguana eating a leaf in the Galapagos islands

Despite its intimidating appearance, the Galapagos land iguana is a herbivore. It feeds on prickly pear leaves and fruit.

Introduced species like cats, dogs and goats have devastated the land iguana population. Cats and dogs kill iguanas and goats wipe out the vegetation that the species relies on for food.

An image of a Galapagos Land Iguana pulling a branch down to feed in the Galapagos islands

You can see land iguanas on Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, South Plaza, Baltra and Seymour Islands.

A captive breeding program on Santa Cruz and other conservation efforts are making a difference for the Galapagos land iguana.

8 – Galapagos Flamingo

An image of a Galapagos Flamingo in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos flamingo feeds on small crustaceans and tiny water plants. Its distinctive beak helps it to separate mud and silt from the food.

Flamingos can be found throughout the Galapagos Islands, but larger colonies are visible on Floreana, Isabela, Santiago, Rabida and Santa Cruz  Islands.

An image of a woman photographing a group of Galapagos Flamingos in the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos flamingos get their brilliant color from their diet. The crustaceans that are their primary food source contain carotenoids, which are expressed in the bird’s bright pink feathers.

An image of five Galapagos Flamingos in the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos flamingos often stand on one leg. It is thought that this resting position conserves body heat and reduces cardiac effort.

7 – Galapagos Penguin

An image of a Galapagos Penguin in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin that lives north of the equator.

The Galapagos penguin is found throughout the islands, but the largest populations are on Fernandina Island and Isabela Island. With fewer than 1000 breeding pairs left, the Galapagos penguin is a must see.

An image of a Galapagos Penguin sitting on a rock in the Galapagos Islands

One of the smallest penguins in the world, the Galapagos penguin mates for life.

An image of a Galapagos Penguin swimming with snorkelers in the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos penguins can seem clumsy on land where they sleep, but they are incredibly agile in water.

6 – Marine Iguana

An image of a marine iguana with salt crystals on its face in the Galapagos Islands

You often sea salt crystals on the faces of marine iguanas, because they have special salt ducts that allow them to excrete excess salt from their body. They expel the salt by “blowing” it out of their noses.

Marine iguanas are only found in the Galapagos Islands. They have adapted to feed almost exclusively on sea algae. They live in colonies on rocky shores, but they can also be found on beaches and in mangroves.

An image of a colony of marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands

Marine iguanas vary in appearance between islands and several sub-species have been identified.

An image of a marine iguana on a swimming beach in the Galapagos Islands

Don’t be surprised if you see a marine iguana on a swimming beach in the Galapagos Islands

5 – Galapagos Green Turtle

An image of Los Túneles near Isabella Island in the Galapagos Islands

Los Túneles near Isabella Island is a sea sanctuary that is a great place to see the Galapagos green turtle.

The  Galapagos green turtle is the only sea turtle species to breed and nest in the Galapagos Islands. It is frequently seen on snorkel trips in the archipelago.

An image of a Galapagos green turtle in the Galapagos Islands

From December to March, pregnant females lay their eggs on beaches at night.

An image of a woman snorkeling with a Galapagos green turtle in the Galapagos Islands

Snorkeling with these gentle giants is one of the thrills of visiting the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos green turtles can be seen in coastal waters throughout the year and are also seen in a few other places around the world, though they only nest in the Galapagos Islands.

4 – Galapagos Sea Lion

An image of a Galapagos sea lion sitting on a large rock in the Galapagos Islands

The loud bark and playful nature of the Galapagos sea lions welcomes visitors.

The Galapagos sea lion breeds exclusively in the Galapagos Islands and in smaller numbers on Isla de la Plata in Ecuador. They are the smallest of the sea lions and can be spotted on rocks, on docks and swimming gracefully in the surf.

An image of a young Galapagos sea lion in the Galapagos Islands

Sharks and killer whales are the biggest predators of Galapagos sea lions – especially young ones.

An image of a young Galapagos sea lion pup in the Galapagos Islands

A sea lion pup is born with a longer, brownish-black coat that gradually fades to brown within the first five months of life.

 Galapagos sea lions reach adulthood at 4-5 years and live an estimated 15-24 years.

An image of a snorkeler taking a picture of a sea lion in the Galapagos Islands

Snorkeling with sea lions is a popular excursion in the Galapagos Islands.

Snorkeling with sea lions is an amazing experience. They are a curious and very social animal. Be wary of the mature bull (male) of the colony as sometimes they can be  aggressive.

3 – Blue-footed Booby

An image of a blue-footed booby sitting on a rock in the Galapagos Islands

Carotenoid pigments in the diet of a booby get concentrated in their feet. Females are attracted to males with very bright feet – a sign that they are very healthy.

The blue-footed booby is clumsy on land, but incredibly agile in the air. They feed on small fish and will dive from high distances above the water.The name booby comes from the Spanish word bobo which means “stupid, foolish, or clown” and describes how awkward the bird is as it moves about on the land.

An image of a blue-footed booby and a chick in the Galapagos islands

A blue-footed booby chick looks to its mother hoping to find some food.

2 – Darwin’s Finches and Mockingbirds

An image of a Darwin's Finch in the Galapagos Islands

You’ll want to get a picture of a Darwin’s finch when you visit the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos finch, also known as Darwin’s finch is not a true finch, but a group of about 15 species of passerine birds found on the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin noticed that each of the species looked similar with the exception of the beak which was uniquely shaped for the kind of food the bird ate on a particular island. These birds provide evidence of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and the name “Darwin’s finches” was popularized in 1947 in his honor.

An image of a Galapagos mockingbird

The Galapagos mockingbird inspired Darwin to look closer at different species and consider the possibility of adaptation.

Many people believe it was the finch that first inspired Darwin’s theory, but it was actually the mockingbird. Darwin noticed that the mockingbirds he had collected from different islands were not all alike and this “thoroughly aroused” Darwin’s attention to the peculiar distribution of species in the Galapagos Islands.

1 – Galapagos Giant Tortoise

An image of a Galapagos giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise and can weigh up to 417 kg (919 lb).

The Galapagos giant tortoise is one of the longest living land animals with a lifespan in the wild of over 100 years and in captivity of at least 170 years. Galapagos giant tortoises are native to the seven Galapagos Islands. It’s believed that there were about 250,000 giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands during the 16th century. By the 1970s, this number had declined to 3,000 due to over-exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat destruction and the introduction of non-native animals to the islands.

An image of a Galapagos giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos giant tortoise has no natural predators.

Their slow movement made it easy for them to be exploited. From the 15th through the 18th century their numbers declined dramatically.

An image of baby tortoises in the Galapagos Islands

A captive breeding program and other conservation efforts are helping to restore tortoise populations.

Successful breeding programs have helped bring population numbers back, but some species are now extinct. With such a small number of tortoises available for breeding, geneticists have a challenge in maintaining the genetic diversity of the populations.

An image of two people inside giant tortoise shells in the Galapagos Islands

We tried on a couple of giant tortoise shells to see what it felt like to be a tortoise. (It was heavy…)

Another important aspect about the recovery of the Galapagos tortoise is education. As more people understand these gentle giants, we increase the chance they will be around for future generations to admire.

An image of a Galapagos giant tortoise eating a leaf in the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos giant tortoises are herbivores. They consume a diet of cacti, grasses, leaves, lichens, berries, melons, oranges, and milkweed.

There you have it. The top ten reasons for visiting the Galapagos Islands from an animal perspective. If you have not been, please go, and have fun making your own top ten list of Galapagos Islands animals. If you enjoy articles about wildlife, check out our post about bird-watching in San Blas, Nayarit.

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