Galalapagos Islands: Special Place with Special Animals!
As early as 1978, the Galapagos Archipelago became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason: due to its isolated location, animal and plant species developed there that are found nowhere else on earth. Many reptiles and birds, but also some mammals are endemic to Galapagos. That is why the Galapagos Islands are a small treasure chest for the whole world. The famous naturalist Charles Darwin also found important information here for the development of his theory of evolution.
When you think of the Galapagos, you think of giant tortoises. In fact, an impressive 15 subspecies of the Galapagos giant tortoise have been described. But there are many other endemic species in Galapagos. For example the unusual marine iguanas, three different land iguanas, the Galapagos albatross, the Galapagos penguin, the flightless cormorant, the well-known Darwin finches, the Galapagos fur seals and their own species of sea lions.
Endemic reptiles, birds and mammals of Galapagos
Galapagos endemic reptiles
Galapagos endemic birds
Galapagos endemic mammals
Wildlife of Galapagos
You can find more information about animals and wildlife viewing in Galapagos in the articles The Wildlife of Galapagos and in the Galapagos travel guide.
Galapagos endemic reptiles
Galapagos giant tortoises
This well-known species of the Galapagos Archipelago impresses with a body weight of up to 300 kg and an average life expectancy of over 100 years. Tourists can observe the rare reptiles in the Santa Cruz and San Cristobal highlands or on Isabela Island.
A total of 15 subspecies of the Galapagos giant tortoise have been described. Unfortunately, four of them are already extinct. It is interesting that two different shell shapes have developed: the dome shape typical of tortoises and a new type of saddle shape. Animals with saddle shells can stretch their necks higher to graze on shrubs. On the very barren volcanic islands, this adaptation is a clear advantage. Due to former hunting, many subspecies of the Galapagos giant tortoise have unfortunately become rare. Today they are under protection. The first important successes in stabilizing the population have already been achieved through captive breeding projects and reintroduction.
These primeval reptiles look like mini Godzillas, but are strictly algae eaters and completely harmless. They live on land and feed in the water. Marine iguanas are the only marine iguanas in the world. Their flattened tail serves as a paddle, they are excellent swimmers and can dive to depths of 30 meters. With their sharp claws, they easily cling to rocks and then graze on algae growth.
Marine iguanas are found on all major Galapagos Islands, but nowhere else in the world. They vary in size and coloration from island to island. The little ones with a head-body length of around 15-20 cm come alive Genoese. The largest with a body length of up to 50 cm are native to Fernandina and Isabela. With their tails, males can reach a total length of more than one meter. During the mating season, the inconspicuous grey-brown basic color of the lizards changes to a strikingly bright colouration. On the Espanola Island the marine iguanas present themselves bright green-red between November and January. That's why they are often called "Christmas lizards".
Endemic land iguanas
Three land iguana species are known in the Galapagos. The most common is the Common Drusenkopf. Also known as the Galapagos land iguana, it lives on six of the Galapagos Islands. The stocky iguanas reach up to 1,2 meters in length. They are diurnal, like to retreat into burrows and often live near a large cactus. The consumption of cacti also covers their water requirements.
The second species of Galapagos iguana is the Santa Fe land iguana. It differs from the common druze in head shape, color and genetics and is only found on the 24 km2 small Santa Fe Island before. This can be visited by tourists with an official nature guide. The third species is the Rosada druzehead. Described as a separate species in 2009, this pink iguana is critically endangered. Its habitat on the north slope of the Wolf volcano on Isabela is only accessible to researchers.
Galapagos endemic birds
The Galapagos Albatross
It is the only albatross in the tropics and breeds on the Galapagos Island of Espanola. There is only one egg in the nest. Even without siblings, the parents have to do to feed the hungry young bird. With a height of around one meter and a wingspan of 2 to 2,5 metres, the Galapagos albatross is an impressive size.
His funny looks, awkward waddling gait and sublime elegance in the air create an endearing contrast. From April to December you can observe this special bird species on Espanola. Outside of the breeding season, it is sighted on the coasts of mainland Ecuador and Peru. Since reproduction (with a few exceptions) only takes place in the Galapagos, the Galapagos Albatross is considered endemic.
The Galapagos penguin
The little Galapagos penguin lives and fishes in the waters of the archipelago. It has found its home on the equator and is the northernmost living penguin in the world. A small group even lives beyond the equator line, effectively inhabiting the northern hemisphere. The cute birds are lightning fast when hunting under water. Especially the Galapagos Islands Isabela and Fernandina are known for penguin colonies. Solitary individuals breed on the coasts of Santiago and Bartolomé, as well as on Floreana.
Overall, the penguin population has unfortunately declined sharply. Not only their natural enemies, but also dogs, cats and introduced rats are threats to their nests. The El Nino weather phenomenon also claimed numerous lives. With only 1200 animals left (Red List 2020), the Galapagos penguin is the rarest penguin species in the world.
The flightless cormorant
The only flightless cormorant in the world lives on Isabela and Fernandina. Its unusual appearance evolved in the isolated environment of the Galapagos Islands. Without predators on the ground, the wings continued to shrink until, as small stub wings, they had completely lost their flight function. Instead, its powerful paddle feet are perfectly developed. The beautiful eyes of the rare bird surprise with a glittering turquoise blue.
This cormorant is perfectly adapted to fishing and diving. On land, however, he is vulnerable. It breeds very isolated and far from any civilization. Unfortunately, feral cats have also been spotted in the remote regions of Isabela. These can be dangerous for the ground-breeding oddball.
The Darwin finches
The Darwin finches are strongly associated with the name Galapagos by the well-known naturalist Charles Darwin and became known as part of his theory of evolution. Depending on what the islands have to offer, the birds use different food sources. Over time, they have adapted to their individual environment and specialized. The different species differ in particular in the shape of the beak.
The vampire finch shows a particularly exciting adaptation to extreme conditions. This species of Darwin finch lives on the islands of Wolf and Darwin and has a nasty trick to survive droughts. Its pointed beak is used to inflict small wounds on large birds and then drink their blood. When food is scarce during drought or the finch needs liquid, this creepy adaptation ensures its survival.
Galapagos endemic marine mammals
Galapagos Sea Lions & Galapagos Fur Seals
Two species of the eared seal family live in Galapagos: Galapagos sea lions and Galapagos fur seals. The intelligent marine mammals are one of the highlights of visiting the archipelago. There are great opportunities to snorkel with the animals. They are playful, unusually relaxed, and don't seem to perceive humans as a threat.
At times, the Galapagos sea lion was listed as a subspecies of the California sea lion. However, it is now recognized as a separate species. Galapagos sea lions reside on numerous Galapagos beaches, nursing their young while sleeping even at the harbour. Galapagos fur seals, on the other hand, like to rest on rocks and prefer to live off the beaten path. The Galapagos fur seal is the smallest species of southern fur seals. The animals are particularly noticeable because of their unusually large eyes, which makes them easy to distinguish from sea lions.
Galapagos and the theory of evolution
Renowned naturalist Charles Darwin made a groundbreaking discovery while in Galapagos. He observed bird species like Darwin's finches and mockingbirds and noticed the differences on different islands. Darwin documented the shape of the beak in particular.
He noted that it suited the birds' varied diet and gave the animals an advantage on their personal island. He later used his findings to develop the theory of evolution. The seclusion of the islands protects the animals from external influences. They can develop undisturbed and adapt perfectly to the conditions of their habitat.
More animal species in Galapagos
Galapagos has a variety of unique ones reptiles, birds and mammals, all of which it is impossible to mention in one article. In addition to flightless cormorants, there are also, for example, diurnal owls and night-sighted pigeons. Several species of endemic snakes and lava lizards also occur in Galapagos. Galapagos flamingos are a distinct species, too. And Santa Fe Island is home to Galapagos' only endemic land mammal: the nocturnal and endangered Galapagos rice rat.
Nazca boobies, blue-footed boobies, red-footed boobies and frigatebirds, while not exclusive to Galapagos (i.e. not endemic), are some of the archipelago’s best-known birds and breed in the national park.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve is also teeming with life. Sea turtles, manta rays, seahorses, sunfish, hammerhead sharks and countless other sea creatures populate the waters around the volcanic shores of the Galapagos Islands.
Experience the unique Wildlife of Galapagos.
Explore paradise with the AGE ™ Galapagos travel guide.
Enjoy the AGE™ Image Gallery: Galapagos Endemic Species
(For a relaxed slide show in full format, simply click on one of the photos)
Related article published in the print magazine "Living with Animals" - Kastner Verlag