12 Animals You May See in the Galápagos Islands
According to officials at Galápagos National Park, there are 2,017 endemic species in the Galápagos Islands, including 79 fish, 42 reptiles, 45 bird, 15 mammals, 1,435 invertebrates, 271 plants, and 130 types of seaweed.
Many travelers come to these far-flung islands to see the wildlife that inspired naturalist Charles Darwin's groundbreaking research on natural selection and evolution. Over the course of five weeks in 1835, Darwin noted how the Galápagos Finches all had slightly different beaks, adapted specifically for the specific island they called home. Nearly 200 years later, and you can still see Galápagos Finches on your trip to the islands.
Whether you're tracing Darwin's footsteps or are interested in snapping pictures of wildlife, look out for these incredible Galápagos animals during your trip.
There are 13 species of finches spread across the Galápagos Islands. Darwin theorized that they were all descended from a single mainland ancestor, and had adapted over time to the unique environments of their island homes.
There used to be many species of giant tortoise in the Galápagos, but exploitation for food (pirates kept live turtles in their ships in order to have fresh meat during the journey), resources (turtle oil was once used to light lamps in Quito), and invasive species have made three species extinct, with a fourth close behind. Early Spanish visitors called these animals galapago, and the entire archipelago eventually took the name.
There are seven species of Lava Lizards in the Galápagos, and they’re found on all but three of the islands in the archipelago. They’re the most common reptile in the Galápagos, and you will surely see the males doing “pushups” to warn off rivals.
Spaniards who sailed through the Galápagos hundreds of years ago dubbed these birds bobos, meaning stupid, because their behavior can seem ridiculous. Bobos became boobies somewhere along the line. Red-footed Boobies are seen less often than the other types of boobies in the Galápagos because they feed and nest far out at sea.
These birds nest on the ground in shallow depressions that they meticulously clean and keep ringed with white guano, or excrement. During a trip to the Galápagos, watch out for male blue-footed boobies performing an elaborate mating dance that includes lifting and showing off his blue feet, and “sky pointing,” during which he partially opens his wings and points his beak skyward.
Sometimes called Masked Boobies because of the coloration around their eyes, this bird lays two eggs at a time. The weaker hatchling is swiftly killed by its stronger sibling, leaving just one surviving chick each year.
Galápagos Sea Lions
These are the largest animals in the Galápagos, with males pushing 600 pounds (that’s even heavier than the Giant Tortoises that max out around 500 pounds). Galápagos Sea Lions live on each of the islands, in the archipelago and are commonly seen sunning on beaches, while snorkeling or swimming, and even in towns.
These are one of the smallest penguins in the world, and the only penguin species that lives near the equator. In certain areas of the Galápagos, it’s not uncommon to see them darting through the water in pursuit of fish while you’re snorkeling or swimming.
This is the only iguana in the world that swims in the ocean and, as a result, it’s developed an impressive ability to hold its breath underwater for up to 30 minutes while grazing on algae and seaweed. Marine iguanas also have an elaborate system for purging salt from their bodies.
Large, yellow land iguanas are found on six of the Galápagos Islands where they’ve developed special techniques that allow them to digest all parts of the prickly-pear cactus — including the spines. Less common is the Santa Fe Iguana, which only lives on Santa Fe Island. A third species of pink iguana is found only in the northern part of Isabela Island.
This enormous bird, sometimes called the Galápagos Albatross, has a wingspan of up to eight feet and spends most of its life in flight over the ocean. Hundreds of mating pairs, however, return to Española Island in the Galápagos Archipelago every year to nest and hatch their young.
To survive in the Galápagos, this species of cormorant didn't need to fly — but it did need to swim. Over hundreds of years of evolution, their wings shrunk, making them flightless but amazingly streamlined, fast, and agile in the water.