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One of the highlights of Galapagos Islands is to see the amazing Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). They are endemic to the islands and they are also the only lizards in the word that swim in the sea. The Marine Iguanas spend most of their time on land, but they feed on algae and seaweed. There are seven subspecies of Marine Iguanas in the archipelago and they can be found on all islands, often in the shore zone, on the lava rocks.
During millions of years the Marine Iguana has evolved to be well adapted to its environment. With a flattened snout and sharp teeth they can effectively feed on the algae on the rocks. Their tail helps them swim under water and with their long claws they can stand firmly on the rocks. Sometimes you can see the Marine Iguanas snort, that is when they get rid of excess sea salt with help from salt-eliminating glands in their nostrils. Most Marine Iguanas are black or dark grey in colour but on some islands the male can have a red or green colouring, a colouring that becomes brighter during the mating season.
Males become around 1m long, but some subspecies become longer and others shorter. The females are shorter than the males, and the spines along their back are not as large as on the male.
Females and young iguanas feed along the shore when it is low tide. It is mostly the males that feed in the sea and they can stay up to an hour under water. As the water is cold the iguanas must get warm when they come up on land, and then you can often see them basking in the sun with their face to the sun and their body raised from the ground (they must get warm, but not too warm so by raising the body they will allow the air to circulate under the body).
The Marine Iguanas are funny to see in the water. Twice when I snorkelled I saw them swimming. At Sullivan Bay I saw a Marin Iguana just as it took off from the bottom and swam up to the surface. As it reached the surface a sea lion got hold of the tail and played with it. Great for me to see, but I don’t think the iguana appreciated it that much. While snorkelling near Puerto Villamil I saw a whole group of iguanas swimming at the surface and just past me. It was wonderful.
The breeding season is from November - March. The females will then lay the eggs in an underground nest where they are incubated for three months. The baby iguanas are small and are therefore vulnerable to predators. They risk getting eaten by owls, hawks herons or mocking birds.
The first two photos are from Gardner Bay and the three following photos are from Punta Suarez. In the photos you can see that the Marine Iguanas on Isla Española has a red colouring.
Written Apr 5, 2012
The Swallow-tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus) is endemic to Galapagos Islands, well almost endemic, as there is a small colony on the Colombian island Malpelo too. The population of Swallow-tailed Gull in the Galapagos Islands consists of 10000 - 15000 pairs, spread in 50 breeding colonies throughout the islands (but not on Fernandina and the west side of Isla Isabela).
The breeding adults have a black head and a red ring around the eyes., whereas the non breeding adults have a white head and are dark around the eyes. The Swallow-tailed Gulls have white underparts and grey neck and upperparts. Their bill is black with a grey tip. The legs and webbed feet are red. The tail is forked and white. Sometimes you can see Swallow-tailed Gulls with white patches on their back. The white patches will help them camouflage in their environment.
The Swallow-tailed Gull is the only nocturnal gull in the world. They feed mostly at night and can then fly several miles from land to catch fish and squid from the surface of the sea, as fish and squid come to the surface to feed on plankton. Sometimes the Swallow-tailed Gulls follow boats at night-time.
The Swallow-tailed Gulls nest in small colonies and they make their nest next to the shore, usually on a small platform on a cliff above sea. They lay only one egg which is incubated for 31-34 days. They breed all year round.
The photo with the two Swallow-tailed Gulls was taken at Punta Suarez on Isla Española.
Updated Mar 21, 2012
The Blue-footed Boobies are funny looking birds, but also amazing with their bright blue feet and their special mating ritual. The Blue-footed Booby on Galapagos Islands is an endemic subspecies (Sula nebouxii excisa) and it is a common, with around 10 000 pairs.
As the name indicate the Blue-footed Boobies have bright blue webbed feet. The bill is greyish blue and the head brown and white. The under parts are white and the wings and upper parts are brown.
Males and females look alike, but males are slightly smaller than the females and the pupil of the females looks larger than the pupil of the males.
The Blue-footed Boobies feed on fish which they plunge dive into the Ocean for. When I snorkelled at Sullivan Bay (Santiago) one dived into the water just in front of me. They are really quick!
The Blue-footed Boobies have a very interesting mating ritual. The male make a dance in front of the female, where he raises one blue foot at a time. He then points the bill to the sky and spread out his wings. The male makes a whistle sound, and the female who has joined in with the movements answers with a more guttural honk. They than offer each another sticks and twigs, for a future nest. I was very happy to see this courtship ritual on Isla Española and I have a video of it both on my Isla Española page and on my Galapagos Islands page.
The Blue-footed Boobies form monogamous pairs and make their nest on the ground. The female lay 2-3 eggs, which both parents help to incubate. To keep the eggs warm they use their feet. After about 45 days the eggs hatch. If food supply is scarce the youngest and smallest chicks will be kicked out of the nest and only the biggest chick will be fed and survive.
The name Booby is believed to come from the Spanish word bobo, which means stupid.
The Blue-footed Boobies in the photos were all seen at Punta Suarez on Isla Española. It is an amazing place where you will see lots of birds just next to the path.
Written Mar 18, 2012
There are three species of snakes in the Galapagos Islands and they are all endemic (and there is also one species of water snake). Two of the snakes have three subspecies and one of the snakes have two subspecies. The snakes are the Floreana/Española/San Cristóbal Snake, the Galapagos/Fernandina/Isabela Snake and the Slevin’s/Steindachner’s Snake.
The snakes all look very similar, but the Slevin’s/Steindachner’s Snake is shorter, only around 50cm, while the other snake species become up to 120cm long. In colour they are brown with yellow lines (like the snake in the photo), or grey with yellow or dark spots forming a zigzag pattern.
The snakes kill their prey by constriction, which mean they wrap their long body around their prey and squeeze until it stops breathing. It also happens that they kill their prey with venom, as they are slightly venomous. They are also a little poisonous to humans. The snakes in Galapagos Islands prey mainly on Lava Lizards, Grasshoppers and small Marine Iguanas. The snakes in their turn are preyed upon by the Galapagos Hawk and also by Wild Cats.
The snakes are quite widespread on the islands where they occur, but not so easy to spot. There are no snakes on the most northern islands. I saw the snake in the photo at Punta Suarez on Isla Española, so it should be an Española Snake (Philodryas biserialis hoodensis). Beside the snake on Española I also saw the tail of a snake on Isla Santa Fe during my visit to the islands.
Written Mar 15, 2012
There are 13 species of Darwin Finches in Galapagos Islands, and they are all endemic. The Finches are famous because the role they played in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution . When Charles Darwin visited Galapagos Islands in 1835 during his voyage with the Beagle he didn’t pay much attention to the finches, but more to the Mockingbirds which he noticed differences in, between the islands. He collected finches but didn’t record from which islands. It was not until he came home and talked to an ornithologist and others who had collected finches during the visit that he understood the significance of them.
All 13 Darwin Finches in Galapagos Islands have evolved from a species of finch found on the South American Pacific coast. When they came to Galapagos Islands they adopted to different habitats and food available there. The beaks have evolved to be suitable to the food they eat. To be able to specialize in feeding is good when food is scarce and there is more competition for what is available.
Interesting to know is that the Woodpecker Finch can use thorns or twigs as tools when they search for larva or other insects in small crevices. Ground Finches eat skin parasites from Tortoises, Land Iguanas and Marine Iguanas, and the Sharp-beaked Ground Finch on Wolf and Darwin is also called Vampire Finch as they feed on blood they peck from Nazca Boobies.
The Darwin Finches have a length of 10 - 16cm. Their plumage is mottled grey, brown, black or olive coloured. Some species are not difficult to distinguish, while others are more difficult to identify. Not only are some species looking alike, but there are variations within a species and there are also hybrids.
The Darwin Finch in the photo is a Large Cactus Finch, seen at Punta Suarez on Isla Española.
Written Feb 16, 2012
The Galapagos Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus wollebaeki) is an endemic subspecies. It is common, and there is a population of about 50 000 Sea Lions in the Galapagos Islands. They can be seen in many places near the shores, on beaches, on the rocks or even in the towns (for example on a porch in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and at the Fish Market in Puerto Ayora). Don’t be surprised if you get surrounded by playful sea lions while snorkelling. It is absolutely fantastic!
The male Sea Lion becomes very large, up to 230cm in length, with a weigh up to 250kg. They have a dark brown fur, which almost looks black when wet and they have a thick neck.
The females are smaller and weigh up to 120kg. They have lighter brown fur, which looks dark brown when wet. There are many more females as only one tenth of the Sea Lion pups are males.
The Galapagos Sea Lions feed during the day and they mostly eat Sardines. They can be away at sea for days to hunt for fish. Sharks are natural predators of the Sea Lions.
The Galapagos Sea Lions form colonies which consist of a dominant male (bull) and up to 30 females (cows) with their pups. The bull protects its territory against other males and sometimes there are fights. As it is difficult for a male to be away feeding while protecting his territory he becomes weaker and he will then be replaced by a stronger male after a while. Males without a territory form bachelor colonies.
The females give birth to one pup each year, which they nurse for up to three years. Sometimes you can see two pups of different age suckling milk from their mother. When they are around five months the pups can start fishing for themselves though. The mother and child can recognise each other’s bark and thus find each other among the other Sea Lions in the colony.
The Sea Lions in the first two photos are on the beach at Gardner Bay, and the Sea Lions in the 3rd, 4th and 5th photos all lie on a small beach near the landing point at Punta Suárez.
Written Jan 29, 2012
The beautiful Sally Lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus) can be seen all over the shores of the Galapagos Islands. With its bright orange colour it stands out from the black lava rocks where you often see them. The young ones are dark in colour though, and this make them well camouflaged on the rocks. The adult crabs can be as big as 20cm. Sally Lightfoot crabs eat algae and small animals. Like other crabs they are moving fast and will run away if you come too close.
The Sally Lightfoot crabs are not only found on Galapagos Islands, but can be found along the American Pacific coast from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north.
The Sally Lightfoot Crab in the photo is walking on the rocks at Gardner Bay on Isla Española.
Written Jan 7, 2012
When Charles Darwin visited Galapagos Islands in 1835 he noticed that the Mockingbirds looked a bit different on different islands, and that is something that influenced his thoughts of evolution.
There are four different species of Mockingbirds and they are all endemic. One is the Charles (Floreana) Mockingbird an endangered species that can only be found on the two small islands Champion and Gardner just off Floreana. Then there is the Chatham (San Cristóbal) Mockingbird that lives on Isla San Cristóbal and it is quite uncommon. On Isla Española the Hood Mockingbird is common, and common on the other islands is the Galapagos Mockingbird.
The mockingbirds have a grey and brown plumage with a white belly, and their length is 25-28cm. The bill is long, thin and black.
Mockingbirds can be found in dry forests- and shrubland areas. They are omnivours and often prey on seabird eggs, insects, young finches or small Lava Lizards.
The Mockingbirds in the photos are Hood Mockingbirds having a feast on turtle eggs on the beach at Gardner Bay, Isla Española. The Hood Mockingbird is the largest of the Mockingbird species on Galapagos Islands and it also has a longer, more curved bill than the other Mockingbirds. That is very useful when eating eggs of sea birds or turtles. The Hood Mockingbird is known to be unafraid of humans and it can often get quite aggressive.
Written Jan 6, 2012
The Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) is endemic to Galapagos Islands. There it can be seen on most island but mostly on Isla Española, Isla Santa Fe, Santiago and Isla Fernandina, and it can be found both in the lowlands and in the highlands.
Adult females and males look the same, but the females are larger than the males. The plumage is dark brown with patches of lighter brown. The broad tail is grey with black bands. The legs and feet are yellow and the beak is greyish with yellow cere. The Galapagos Hawk will be around 55cm long with a wingspan of 120cm.
The Galapagos Hawk is a predator and scavenger. They prey on Painted Locusts, Lava Lizards, baby iguanas, snakes, rodents and more. They can scavenge on larger dead animals like sea lions and goats. There are no natural enemies of the Galapagos Hawk on the islands.
The Galapagos Hawk breeds throughout the year. The female mates with several males and they than take turns looking after the eggs and nest and later the chick. Even if 1-3 eggs is laid only one young is usually reared. The nest is often built in trees or on rocks and the same nest can be used for several years.
The Galapagos Hawk in the photo was sitting on a rock, not too far from the path we walked, at Punta Suarez, Isla Española.
Written Jan 1, 2012
Lava Lizards are endemic to the Galapagos Islands and there are seven different species. The Galapagos Lava Lizard (Microlophus Albemarlensis) can be seen on several islands, and then there are the Española Lava Lizard, Floreana Lava Lizard, Marchena Lava Lizard, Pinta Lava Lizard, Pinzón Lava Lizard and the San Cristóbal Lava Lizard. There is never more than one species on each island. The Lava Lizards are common in the dry areas near the coasts.
Lava Lizards are between 15 - 30 centimetres long, and it is the Floreana Lava Lizard that is the smallest and the Española Lava Lizard that is the longest. Colour and marking varies between species and the habitat they are living in. And like other lizards they change colour because of temperature or if they feel threatened. But in general one can say that the males are larger than the females, and often have a brighter colour with a distinct pattern. When the males are mature they are brown/black under the throat, while mature females have an orange throat.
Lava Lizards are active during the day. They are omnivores and feed on plants, but mostly eat insects. They can even eat baby lava lizards.
The Lava Lizards in the photos are Española Lava Lizards seen by the small beach near the landing point at Punta Suarez. As you can see in the first photo the Española females are often not only orange under the throat but on the head as well.
Written Dec 12, 2011