“One thousand kilometers from the continental mainland is a safe distance for the Galapagos’natural world to thrive in its uniqueness, and be loved and admired for that difference”
Islands of Extraordinary Life
If we, for a second, imagine the petrified lava, the sea crashing against heaps of rock, and of course, the wind blowing furiously through nothingness and wasteland, the picture Herman Melville wished to paint in his poems The Encantadas —a heartless Galápagos —seems to make perfect sense.
A place where nothing, no living creature, lives is, of course, more Martian than Earthly, but if there were such a place on Earth, the Galápagos would certainly be it. And perhaps it is because of this very fact that the representatives of the living world, the moving (and stationary) life forms that roam and stand on the sizzling volcanic Earth (from leafless Palo Santo forests to sun-basking lava lizards), make these islands so uncanny. When you take a closer look, and you actually find out just how uncanny the creatures really are, you shall never see life on Earth with the same eyes.
It’s quite difficult to truly grasp how creatures like giant tortoises —so enormous, so slow in their present biological form — could have actually made it to the archipelago. Although evolution may well be part of the equation, the time frame since the origin of the islands leads scientists to believe they didn’t evolve from marine turtles (turning their fins into legs), and must have floated the distance as buoyant survivors of a spectacular accident, if not an unexplainable whim, in large enough numbers to colonize the islands.
The evolutionary theory through isolation could explain how, once stranded on the archipelago, smaller mainland species became so dramatically large. Animals like marine iguanas, which we consider to have evolved the other way around, from land-dwellers to sea-goers, must have made it out on stumps and logs, across the vast blue ocean, surviving storms and relentless predators. Fathoming both of these creatures’ physical, geographical, anatomical and evolutionary journeys is a story of epic proportions.
The Pink Iguana
The amazing discovery of the Galápagos Pink Iguana in the highlands of Volcán Wolf on Isabela is a most magical example of inland evolution. A surprising result of isolation and divergence, the world’s only black-striped pink lizard is reportedly a single 100-strong community of a rosy version of the land iguana found elsewhere on the island.
Extremely rare and endangered
Any Galápagos endemic is, at a world scale, endangered and extremely rare. It’s a general principle. Species like the Lava Heron, whose populations are stable, and are actually quite a common sight on the islands, could be wiped out in no time if any given set of conditions were to suddenly change. The Floreana Mockingbird, on the other hand, has been restricted to tiny islets, Champion and Gardner, off of the Floreana coast… there are no more than a hundred individuals.
Floating matter’s almost month-long journey across the ocean, under a hard-hitting tropical sun, with no fresh water to be found, had made Galápagos amphibian-free until 1998, when the Fowler’s Snouted Tree-frog was spotted at different marshland habitats near and around Galápagos’ towns. This introduced species, like most others, has negatively impacted the island’s natural balance.
Keep reading “Galapagos Mammals”