The Galapagos Islands are a small archipelago, but their importance to the direction of world history is absolutely massive. It was upon these islands that Charles Darwin, Scientists, philosopher and ultimately, the creator of the theory of evolution did the majority of his research.
The isolation and unique climate of the islands means that it was the ultimate petri dish for Darwin, who saw evidence of his theory of evolution blossom everywhere in miniature. Rare animals are everywhere on the Galapagos, which is why it receives hundreds of visitors every year, including more than a few Darwin obsessed cruisers looking to tread in the great man’s footsteps (I might just aspire to be one of them, but don’t tell anyone).
In short, this is a nature obsessive’s paradise – over 19 tiny islands there is an abundance of rare birds, incomparable marine life, and vegetation. Once you get to know the beautifully diverse animals of the Galapagos, there’s no doubt you’ll fall in love with the place just like Darwin did. Here then, for your reading pleasure, is a menagerie of magnificent creatures that you can only find in the archipelago to end all archipelagos.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
The most famous icon of the Galapagos is the animal they are named after – Galapagos literally means tortoise in Spanish and the subject of countless studies by Darwin. It is of course, the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, huge in size and fame. At their peak, these amazing creatures had a population of over 250,000, spread out over the entire archipelago.
Unfortunately that hit a low of 3,000 during the mid-1970’s. With the diligent work of conservation groups over the last few decades, the giant tortoises have been brought back from the brink of extinction to populate the islands once again. With an average lifespan of over 100 years, it’s one of the most long-lived creatures in the whole of the animal kingdom, not to mention one of the most unique. In 2012, the most famous shelled resident of the islands, Lonesome George, passed away, but his legend lives on as a fervent symbol of the conservation movement on the islands.
In a set of islands filled with unusual creatures, Marine Iguanas have the distinction of being one of the strangest. They’re definitely not a pretty sight, with spiky dorsal fins, dark coloured scales and salt encrusted crests, but they are an absolute marvel of nature. The Marine Iguana species is believed to have descended from South American iguanas that somehow drifted out to the Galapagos millions of years ago.
Despite their fearsome appearance, they are peaceful herbivores with one of the most gentlemanly ways of solving mating disputes known to man or lizard. Two males will square up to each other, press their faces together and proceed to engage in a to and fro pushing match. Whichever Iguana is pushed back far enough to yield is the loser of the competition. The remarkable thing about their tenure in the Galapagos is that each small island has their own particular brand of Marine Iguana, taking in a wide range of markings, colourings and sizes.
Although they are widespread in places like Florida and the Caribbean, a genetically unique breed of the Magnificent Frigatebird is pre-dominant in the Galapagos – a mere 2,000 of them are estimated to be surviving on the archipelago.
Male Magnificent Frigatebirds are known for their distinctive red throat pouches, which make for a stunning mating ritual display when the time comes. Fully-inflated, the throat pouch become bulbous to the point of being comically ridiculous, and many travellers make it a priority to get a photograph of the Magnificent Frigatebird in full display. They also have the unique trait of being completely silent when they take flight, making them what is known as an Aviary Pirate – a breed which is especially adept at preying on other birds in full flight.
Like the Magnificent Frigatebird, the Galapagos Sally Lightfoots have distant cousins who have evolved differently elsewhere. The pacific coast of the Americas might be home to this colourful species of crustacean, but you’re unlikely to see anything matching the distinctive markings of the Galapagos residents. All the colours of the rainbow can be spotted on the exterior of Sally Lightfoots upon the islands of the Galapagos, which makes them a priority for anyone with a camera visiting the archipelago.
Sally Lightfoots are also privy to a strange, symbiotic relationship – they are known to clean ticks from the Marine Iguanas who populate the shores of each island – often flocking by the thousand to feed off the parasites that flourish between the scales of the Iguanas.
Some of the most famous animals on the islands are also the smallest – the 13 different species of Galapagos Finches were immortalised by Darwin when he began his research into evolution. Comparing the aspects of each species in comparison to their environment is what gave Darwin the impetus to explore the theory further, and today, the Galapagos Finches still thrive on each island. They all evolved from a single ancestral species, which proved to be the turning point for Darwin’s investigation. Some might mistakenly denounce them as common birds, but a glimpse of a Galapagos finch is a glimpse of history.