Where else can you see towering volcanoes, crystal clear waters with swimming dragons; lumbering primeval monsters, ten metre high daisy trees and majestic birds with a wingspan of over 2 metres.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the natural wonders of the planet. The attention of the world was first drawn to them by the publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin who had visited the islands in 1835 and who drew on many of his observations there to develop his theory. Since then the islands have been a mecca for scientists and visitors from all over the world.
Situated some 1000 km to the west of Ecuador, Galapagos are the largest near-pristine archipelago in the world, Fernandina island is the largest near pristine island in the world, the islands are a World Heritage Site, the Galapagos Marine Reserve is a World Heritage site, the Islands are a Biosphere Reserve and played a significant role in helping Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution by natural selection.
But the Galapagos are really special because of the amazing wildlife that you find there, Giant Tortoises, Marine and Land Iguanas, Blue-footed and Red-footed Boobies, Flamingos, Frigate birds, Lava Lizards, the Galapagos Hawk, Mockingbirds, Sally Lightfoot crabs, most of them found only in Galapagos. But even more amazing is that the wildlife is so easy to approach, in fact some such as sea lions, hawks and mockingbirds come to investigate you. The islands are also one of the most active volcanic areas in the world; the last eruption was in late 2005.
Blue-footed Booby – Sula nebouxii
One of the highlights of a visit to Galapagos is the Blue-footed Booby, it may be its spectacular dive to catch fish, often done as though synchronised in flocks of 100 or so birds. It may be their amazing courtship dance with sky-pointing and feet displays, or it may simply be watching them looking just slightly self-conscious, sitting on a rock with their amazing blue feet.
The Blue-foot is not endemic to Galapagos but three quarters of the world population live here, they are very effective fishers and fish close in shore, sometimes almost on the beach. They breed during the cool or ‘garua’ season and have a preference for dusty patches in the rocks, often right on the visitor trails.
Galapagos Tortoise – Geochelone spp.
Giant tortoises are found in only two places in the world, Aldabra and Galapagos. In Galapagos there are thought to have been 12 species originally, though the one from Fernandina is known from only one specimen collected in 1905.
There are two distinct types, the ‘saddleback’ that is found on smaller drier islands, and the dome shaped which lives on the larger islands with moist zones. The saddleback carapace allows its occupier to graze than is possible for the dome shaped ones.
The different species live on different islands, or on Isabela, on different volcanoes, Darwin was told about the different shaped carapaces or shells, but did not at first appreciate their significance.
Lava Lizard – Microlophus spp.
There are seven species of lava lizard on Galapagos, six are island specific whilst the seventh is found on at least 11 different islands. They vary considerably in size and colouration, the one on Espanola is one of the largest while that on Fernandina is largely black and grey.
Lava lizards are omnivorous, eating both insects and flowers for plants, they also like to feed off flies and parasites that they find on Sea Lions and Marine Iguanas. You will often see a lava lizard doing ‘press-ups’, sometimes on top of a trail marker, this is generally a territorial threat display.
Vermilion Flycatcher – Pyrocephalus rubinus
There is no doubt that the male vermillion flycatcher is the most brightly coloured bird in Galapagos. Found on all of the main islands in the dry zone and the lower parts of the humid zone. The female in contrast has a rather dull yellow breast and a brown back.
Vermilion Flycatchers are insectivorous, but they are quite frequently to be found sitting on the top of the carapace of a large Galapagos Tortoise, the tortoise making a useful mobile lookout, and probably also attracting flies.