The Galapagos Islands lie over 1,000km off the coast of South America’s Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean, almost exactly on the equator. Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1835 on his voyage in The HMS Beagle. The islands’ nature proved to be of great importance in the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
Three ocean currents converge at the islands and there is ongoing volcanic and seismic activity; these factors along with the islands’ isolation led to the unusual animal life that can be seen on the islands.
What it is, the marine reserve and the islands are known as a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution.’ The islands’ natural residents are world famous for being fearless of humans, thanks to their long history of evolution in absolute isolation from humanity. For this reason the Galapagos are possibly the world’s most popular destination for nature lovers seeking to spot some of the islands’ best known residents.
This is the largest living tortoise and is the most recognised symbol of the Galapagos Islands. The tortoises can weigh more than 250kg and their shells can measure 150cm; they are slow moving and have a life span of over 150 years.
These creatures are herbivores and live on a diet of fruit, leaves, grasses, vines and cactus. Tortoises that feed on high growing cacti have curved shells to enable their longer neck to reach the food whereas tortoises feeding on ground vegetation have dome shells.
The islands were once home to 15 sub-species with 11 sub-species still living. It is believed that the tortoises arrived on the island by floating on a piece of wood along the Pacific Coast. A similar large tortoise lives on the South American mainland that is related to the Galapagos Tortoise.
In 1969, the tortoises became endangered and the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Research Station were established and they are now strictly protected. The Charles Darwin Research Station has started a tortoise rearing project, collecting tortoise eggs from islands where the introduced species have been threatening the native species and raising the young until they are strong enough against predators. This project has turned things around and have now got 10 of the 11 endangered species to guarded levels.
Galapagos Pink Land Iguana
An Iguana is a large lizard; the islands are home to both the Marine Iguana and the Land Iguana. Black stripes along on the body with rose coloured scales, the Pink Iguana is believed to be an iguana hybrid. This particular species was first spotted in the islands in 1986 but was not classified as a separate species until 2009.
There are physical differences between the species, the Pink Iguanas have flat head scales, whereas land iguanas have a thick fatty crest on the back of the neck with small conical scales.
“Volcan Wolf”, the volcano in the north on the island of Isabela, is the only place that this Iguana can be found and is recognised by a stripy pink body. There are thought to be around 100 living species and because of this, urgent action needs to be taken to prevent its extinction.