For avid nature lovers, a small group wildlife cruise in Galapagos affords a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to encounter a wide range of unique animals, including a host of fascinating reptiles. |
The local habitat is extremely favourable for reptiles and the original arrivals were more than likely washed up on the shores attached to driftwood or vegetation that came from mainland South America. Because they can subsist on very little water, many more of them would have survived the journey than their mammal compatriots. Over the ensuing millennia, they evolved to adapt to their habitat in many ways - so much so that they are virtually unrecognisable from their ancient ancestors.
The Giant Tortoise
Needing little introduction, Giant Tortoises are probably the most sought-after sighting for visitors on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos. While they have no natural predators and were free to live extended lives and evolve to their massive proportions, at one stage human intervention (from pirates and whalers) decimated their numbers. Today, however, they can be observed in their natural habitat (predominantly in the cool, lush highlands of Santa Cruz), and also in the breeding stations on Santa Cruz, Isabela and San Cristobal. True to their name they can grow to weigh up to 250kg.
The Marine Iguana
These remarkably adapted animals are the only sea-going lizard in the world. Their ability to dive for food to depths of 15m sets them apart as a unique endemic species. They're able to regulate their own body temperature and are quite often seen sunning themselves on the rocky shoreline in order to bring their temperature back to normal after oceanic dives. They can be found throughout the coastal habitat of the archipelago and, like the majority of the wildlife here, are not concerned by the presence of humans.
The Land Iguana
Land Iguanas are larger than their marine counterparts and are not seen as prolifically. They tend to be quite solitary in nature and prefer to forage alone for their food source (vegetation) in a grassy scrubland habitat. Their preferred delicacy is spiky cactus plants, which the hardened, coarse skin around their mouth allows them to devour, spines and all. A new Pink Iguana has recently been discovered on the volcanic slopes of Isabela, although due to the nature of their very small population it's not possible for visitors to see them.
The Lava Lizard
Lava Lizards can be seen scurrying around everywhere, seemingly always in a hurry to be somewhere else. They subsist on a diet of small insects and grow anywhere up to 30cm in length. The seven endemic sub-species of the lizard all have unique adapted characteristics, depending on where they're found. Experienced naturalists can tell at a glance from which island they come.
Reptiles Unique to the Region
Some of the other reptiles that might be seen are any of the nine species of geckos and the four sub-species of small, harmless snakes. Most of the reptiles of the region are now considered endemic, which means that those who explore these fascinating islands on a wildlife cruise in Galapagos will see animals that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the Galapagos Islands. For those interested in a wildlife cruise in Galapagos, Marissa recommends the itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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