About 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador lies an archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands. Many know of the spot as the location that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. For centuries the islands have been a hot spot for viewing hundreds of species, some of which only exist on the islands. Consisting of 18 main islands, many of which have two names, there are more than 200 recorded species spread out across the islands. Get ready to meet some of the most unusual and charming creatures found on these islands.
This graceful reptile is a marine iguana. They are found in various islands of the Galapagos and vary in size and color depending on their subspecies. This big guy was pictured swimming in Isabela Island.
While this iguana is predominantly gray-colored, some marine iguanas are teal or scarlet. Known to scientists as the Amblyrhynchus cristatus, they grow to be as long as 3.3 feet and are found only on the Galapagos islands. You can spot them on land or underwater, hence their nickname sea iguana or saltwater iguana.
The brown pelican may look familiar due to its relation to the pelican family (those white birds with the giant yellow beaks). While the species itself is considered a North American bird, their subspecies are named in accordance with the area they are found in and/or breed in.
The brown pelican seen here is a Pelecanus occidentalis urinator. Though they are small relative to other pelican species, they are still large in comparison to other birds.
Known to scientists as the chelonoidis nigra, these guys are the largest living species of tortoise. They weigh 550 pounds on average, but can get up to around 900 pounds! For a creature so massive, it’s impressive that they can also live to be more than 150 years old.
The archipelago was actually named after these tortoises; Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. According to the Galapagos Conservation Trust, there are approximately 20,000 individuals of the species currently roaming the islands.
Galapagos Fur Seal
Like many coastal areas, you’ll likely spot several sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, but you may have more trouble finding this similar species. The Galapagos fur seal, aka Arctocephalus galapagoensis, is much smaller than the sea lion and is covered in a layer of fuzzy fur.
Though they are sometimes more difficult to spot, their population is roughly the same as that of the sea lion. The difference is that you won’t see the fur seals sunbathing on the beach. Keep an eye out for them tucked away in coves or on rocks along Isabela and Fernandina islands.
One of the most popular bird species of the Galapagos islands, the blue-footed booby is characterized by the electric blue of their feet as well as their intricate mating dance. As impressive as their dance is, the are notably clumsy on land. In fact, that’s how they got their name.
Known to scientists as Sula nebouxii, commoners pegged the name “booby” from the Spanish word “bobo,” a term used to call someone a clown or a fool. While they may look silly on land, you’ll take them seriously after you see one dive into the sea and come up with a beak full of fish.
The Setophaga petechia aureola is a subspecies of the Yellow Warbler that prefers to reside in the Galapagos Islands. The bird is characterized most obviously by its bright fur and sweet vocal cords.
If you look closely you can see the feature that makes the subspecies stand out: a brown-red patch of feathers at the bird’s scalp. They enjoy the humidity of island life and prefer a coastal climate. They are sometimes known as the Mangrove or Golden warbler.
Scientists call this endangered species Spheniscus mendiculus, these penguins are native to the Galapagos islands, making them the most Northern penguins around. The adorable species is also one of the smaller of its kind, averaging only 19 inches in height.
Despite being roughly the size of a human baby, the penguins are extremely skilled hunters underwater. The cool ocean is also how they maintain their temperature in such a warm climate. They also stay out of the sun, creating homes in the caves of Isabela island.
You didn’t think we’d mention sea lions without going into detail, did you? The Zalophus wollebaeki is a species of sea lion that only breeds on the Galapagos islands. The social butterflies are often in contact with humans, which they unfortunately reap the consequences of.
As much as humans love to view their affectionate and relaxed lifestyle, the sea lions suffer from coming into contact with waste, nets, and hooks. Though you’ll likely see families of sea lions basking on the beach, they are an endangered species.
For most of us, lizards are a familiar and friendly sight to see. However, the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands will take your breath away with their bright colors and long bodies. These creatures vary in color and are on average about 3/4 of a foot long.
Males typically have more patterning but females sometimes have red in their throat or head. You can sometimes see the males doing “pushups,” a way to intimidate other males and warn them to stay off their property.
The mockingbird is one of the most well-known birds around thanks to its common use in literature. The Galapagos Islands have their own variation of the bird scientifically named Minus parvulus.
There are six subspecies of the bird that are based upon which Galapagos island they reside in. You can recognize the bird by its long beak and legs. While the birds are harmless to humans, the omnivores won’t hesitate to eat eggs and small turtles.
Española Cactus Finch
The finches of Galapagos owe their fame to scientist Charles Darwin, who many of us learned about in school. Famed for their diversity, the finches consist of 15 species of birds, one being the Geospiza conirostris or the Española cactus finch.
The bird owes its name to Española island, one of the only Galapagos islands where it is found. It also has a similar physique to the common cactus finch. However, don’t confuse this finch with the common cactus finch, for the two birds inhabit completely different islands.
Banded Galapagos Snake
Known for their beautiful, golden stripes and their speed, the Galapagos snakes are sometimes referred to as racer snakes. It is speculated that they arrived on the islands via vegetation rafts, which would explain their similar aesthetic to the garden snake.
The banded snake, also known as the Pinzón racer, is one of six variations of the snake called Pseudalsophis slevini by scientists. They only inhabit the island of Pinzón. For those who fear snakes, rest assure that these ones are more or less indifferent towards humans and are only mildly venomous.
The waved albatross, aka the Galapagos albatross, is the only species in its scientific family to live in a tropical climate. For this reason, the birds have a special feature unique to their species: a salt gland above their nasal passage.
This gland helps to regulate the salt in their body since they often ingest ocean water. Known by scientists as Phoebastria irrorata, these distinguished birds get their common name from the pattern on their feathers, which look like waves.
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
The scalloped hammerhead shark is distinctive for its cephalofoil, which is the front part of their heads that make them look like a hammer. Unlike the great hammerhead, which has a flat cephalofoil, these ones arched cephalofoils with notches.
Hammerheads can most often be seen around Darwin and Wolf Islands in the month of January, according to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Though the one pictured is just a baby, a full-sized adult will grow to about 9 feet long and 200 pounds.
The Caribbean flamingo, also referred to as the American flamingo, breed in Galapagos as well as around the Caribbean. Those in Galapagos have a few features that distinguish them, such as being significantly smaller and laying smaller eggs.
On average, they grow to be about four feet tall. Phoenicopterus ruber is the scientific name of these bright pink birds, which gain their pigment from their diet. They also have black-tipped wings that are only visible when their wings are spread open.
Sally Lightfoot Crab
This beautiful creature is known to scientists as Grapsus grapsus (yes, it’s the same name twice). Odd as that name may seem to the average person, it’s common name– Sally lightfoot crab– is even stranger.
Rumor has it that the crab was named after a Caribbean dancer. Regardless, the crab is a skillful maneuverer, leaping and jumping with such force that they can appear at times to be in flight. You can spot them crawling along the Pacific coast from Mexico down to Peru, including the Galapagos Islands.
Frigatebirds are one of the few species whose common name is similar to its scientific name (Fregatidae). There are two subspecies of the bird that are present on the Galapagos islands: the Magnificent Frigate and the Great Frigate.
While both look similar, the Great Frigate tends to be found in more regions. For this reason, most of the Frigates you see in the sky near the Galapagos islands are Magnificent Frigates, which tend to stay closer to the coast and are native to the area.
Also known as the Galapagos batfish, the Ogcocephalus darwini species is found solely around the Galapagos Islands according to the Galapagos Conservation Trust. One thing that makes the species unique is that prefers to walk than swim, using its fins as pseudo-legs.
The fish is named after Charles Darwin, who observed the fish when visiting the islands back in 1835. Since its form is so unusual, it is thought to evoke the strange forms that can take shape as a result of natural selection.
For the record, owl ears are not actually visible since they are covered with feathers. The owls belonging to genus Asio are those whose feathers come up at the top to resemble what look like ears to humans. Thus, the short-eared owl is known as the Asio flammeus.
The species found in the Galapagos Islands are one of ten known subspecies. You can recognize these owls by their bright yellow eyes, which are exaggerated against their black facial feathers. They also have irregular wingbeats that make them look floppy in flight.
As this picture shows, the Haematopus palliatus is skilled at catching oysters, which gave the bird its common name. They are distinguished by their black and white feathers and long, orange beak.
While many of the other species on the Galapagos islands stick to the Pacific coast, these birds can be spotted around both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Their population in the Galapagos islands is only around 400. They are usually spotted in pairs, so if you manage to find one, another is likely to be nearby.