For travelers with a love for wildlife, the Galapagos should be at the top of your bucket list. Not only is this remote chain of islands home to some of the world’s rarest species, its isolation has created a community of creatures who are surprisingly unafraid of humans. No need for a telephoto lens, on these expeditions you’ll get closer than you can image to hundreds of unique animals.
A common mammal to the islands, Galapagos Sea Lions can be found in the shore zone and occasionally further out to sea when fishing for food. The estimated Galapagos Sea Lion population is 50,000. Their nature is very playful and inquisitive, so don’t be surprised if you make some new friends while snorkeling!
The male frigatebird is easily identified by its vibrant red throat pouch, which balloons dramatically to attract females during mating season (typically March to April, but breeding can occur throughout the year). It’s common to see frigatebirds wheeling overhead while at sea; they may even alight on the rigging of ships to rest.
Yellow-orange in color with a dark brown back, land iguanas measure over a meter in length and give the impression of a modern-day dragon. In the morning they can be found basking in the sun but will often find a shady respite come midday. If you’re lucky you may catch iguanas interacting with Darwin’s Finches as they allow the birds to remove ticks from their scales.
While young Sally Lightfoot Crabs are black or dark brown in color to camouflage themselves on the black lava coasts of these volcanic islands, the adult crabs have exceptionally vibrant coloring. Ranging from mottled brown to bright pinks and yellows, these crabs are quite energetic and can often be seen scuttling over rocks along the shore.
So named because their diet of algae affects the color of their body tissue, Green Sea Turtles are the only species of turtle that nests in the Galapagos. More streamlined than their land-bound counterparts, Green Sea Turtles have light shells (that are actually part of their skeleton) and flippers to help them reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour in the water.
The only penguin to live in a tropical environment on the equator, Galapagos Penguins can most commonly be seen on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island. During the day they keep cool by swimming the cool waters of the Cromwell Current. At night you’ll find them nesting on land.
The most iconic species to inhabit the Galapagos, these native birds were crucial in Charles Darwin’s development of the concept of natural selection. While similar to mainland finches, the beaks of these island birds have evolved over time to adapt to specific types of food.
The largest bird of the Galapagos (with wingspans up to eight feet) is also one of the longest living bird species in the world, with an average life expectancy of 45 years! Found only on the island of Espanola, these loyal birds mate for life and can often be seen rolling their eggs along the ground during breeding season between mid-April and July.
Easily the most recognizable bird in the Galapagos, the flamingo’s vibrant plumage and long neck make it a standout among island wildlife. Did you know that flamingos can only eat with their head upside down? The shape of their beaks helps filter out mud and silt from the brine shrimp they consume.
The term booby comes from the Spanish ‘bubi’ meaning ‘stupid fellow’. While these striking birds can appear clumsy on land, it’s a whole different story once they take to the air. Blue-footed boobies will dive into the sea from great heights to catch fish, sometimes even catching flying fish in mid air!
A true symbol of the Galapagos, there are around 15,000 giant tortoises living on the islands today. With an average walking speed of only 0.3 miles per hour, you won’t have to worry about them running from photo opportunities! These gentle giants can weigh up to 500 pounds and many live for over 100 years.
These iguanas are the only sea-going lizards in the world and can only be found on the Galapagos islands. These reptiles are darker in color that the islands’ land iguanas and spend a considerable amount of time in the sea feeding on algae. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to see them on land when they soak up the sun to regulate their body temperature.
With only about 1,500 remaining in the Galapagos, the flightless cormorant is one of the world’s rarest birds. With no natural predators, these unique birds evolved without the ability to fly, though they are strong swimmers. Keep an eye out for them when you visit Galapagos National Park.
These predators typically feed on small lizards, snakes and rodents, but have also been known to snatch up young iguanas and hatchling turtles. With their keen sense of vision, these hawks will notice you long before you see them, so have your binoculars close at hand.
The most populous lizard in the Galapagos, lava lizards aren’t shy of humans so you’ll be sure to see these small, brightly colored reptiles on your travels. These lizards will change color when they sense a threat or change in temperature and play an active role in controlling insect populations.
These songbirds are exceptionally inquisitive and are known to get up close with visitors and are even known to land on people to inspect food and drinks. You don’t necessarily need to look to the air to spot these curious birds, you’ll often see mockingbirds running along the ground.