The Galapagos Islands and wildlife are synonymous – you can’t really mention one, without referring to the other – people travel from all over the world to dive and snorkel around the islands, see the oldest tortoise in the world and spot rare and exotic birds. Located 525 nautical miles off the coast of Ecuador, this archipelago of volcanic islands are celebrated for their vast number of endemic species, which were famously studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle in the 1830’s.
To this day the isolated nature of the Galapagos Islands combined with the foresight of the Ecuadorian Government to introduce early protection laws, has helped the survival of some incredible creatures. Naturally this makes for an absolute haven for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts!
We think our land-hopping Galapagos tour, the ‘Tortuga’, is the best way to experience the Island’s diverse land and marine wildlife. Rather than on a cruise tour, by land hopping you get to spend quality time at each location, immersing in the local culture and viewing the wildlife through various activities, like hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Here’s a bit of teaser information about some of the fascinating creatures in the Galapagos Islands – your local naturalist guide will be able to fill you in with all the missing details too, they’re incredibly knowledgeable!
When it comes to status, these guys are heavy hitters! They’re the largest of the tortoises, the 10th heaviest living reptile in the world and among the longest-living vertebrates. To the Galapagos National Park Service’s credit, there’s a strong conservation program for the Galapagos Giant Tortoise, which is run through the Charles Darwin Research Centre, a place you’ll visit on Santa Cruz Island.
These wizened old creatures are only found on the Galapagos Islands. Perhaps unfairly Charles Darwin described them as “hideous-looking” and “mostly disgusting, clumsy lizards”, but he was certainly impressed with their ecological adaptations, with each island hosting marine iguanas with unique colour, size and shape characteristics.
You just can’t go past these feet, it goes without saying, that the bluer the feet, the more attractive the mate. The same colour as a boat shed in Newquay, the blue-footed boobie also use their feet to cover their chicks and keep them warm. When they are fishing these birds fold their wings behind their backs and plunge into the water from as high as 80 feet.
We couldn’t mention the blue, without mentioning the red, right? Amongst the smallest of the boobies, the red-foot feeds at sea, nests on the ground and perches in coastal trees. The boobie species are thought to have taken their name from the Spanish word ‘bobo’, which means stupid (harsh!). One can only assume that the early European colonists first saw these unwary birds in their less graceful environment, on land!
Which do you prefer? The blue or the red-footed boobie?
Sally Lightfoot crab
Also known as the Grapsus Grapsus, the Sally Lightfoot crab is a rather helpful creature on the island. They are often seen cleaning ticks off the marine Iguana’s skin. They have five sets of legs, rainbow colouration, and an amazing ability to climb up wet slippery rocks, jumping from one rock to another; making the Sally Lightfoot one of the most photographed creatures on the island.
Green Sea Turtle
About 150 million years ago the ancestors of the green sea turtle decided the grass was greener (or the seaweed tastier?) under water and so, as evolution goes, they became underwater creatures. They’re one of the few species so ancient to have watched dinosaurs evolve and become extinct.
Hammerhead sharks are extremely shy around humans, but when it comes to hunting small fish, octopuses, squid and crustaceans they’re amongst the most aggressive of all shark species. Likewise, when mating they are incredibly violent, the male will bite the female until she submits to him. The shape of their head helps when hunting prey, for example they can pin down stingray to the ocean floor, rotate and then bite.
When I returned from the Galapagos Islands, family and friends would ask me to tell them what the highlight of my trip was. My answer began with watching my child snorkel with the sea lions… the penguins … the sea turtles … And then I continued with seeing the blue footed boobies … the tortoises … the hammerhead sharks … hiking to the volcanoes … and the list goes on and on. We had the most amazing guide, Pepo, who shared with all 9 of us, his expertise and knowledge of the Islands. This was an adventure, a vacation, and an education all in one.
Lisa Summerfield, Tortuga, May 2014