Wildlife in the Galapagos has a particular way of capturing our attention. Its bright colors, contrasts, textures, shapes and sizes are unlike anything you will ever see. And there are very few places in the world where you will be able to get so close to wildlife in its own habitat the way you can in the Galapagos. It’s a known fact that the animals in the archipelago are as unique as they are tame. However, that doesn’t mean we are allowed to touch and pet them, no matter how still they remain or how close they get to us. Whether its curious sea lions, nesting blue-footed boobies, or heavy Galapagos giant tortoises you’re looking for, all of these Galapagos BIG15 iconic species will be there practically posing for your perfect photo.
One of these beautiful creatures, and also a BIG15 favourite, is the rare and amazing Galapagos Land Iguana. Read on to get acquainted with this beautiful creature and have your camera ready! You will find it basking under the sun, relaxing under the shade of a poison apple tree or slowly moving in the search for food.
The endemic Galapagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) is one of three species of iguana and it can only be found on this special archipelago. There are two other species of land iguana found throughout the islands – the rare pink land iguana found on Isabela and the Santa Fe land iguana (another BIG15 species). There’s also the matter of their distant cousin to take into consideration – the famous marine iguana – from which the Galapagos land iguana diverged some 8 to 10 million years ago, as has been confirmed by genetic evidence. The Galapagos land iguana can grow to be up to 5 ft (1.5 m) and weigh up to 25 lb (11 kg). Like any reptile, iguanas are cold-blooded, which is why they are usually seen basking under the sun on top of lava rocks. But around noon, when the equatorial sun gets too hot, they tend to look for shade under rocks or any kind of vegetation. They are mostly herbivores but can become carnivores when need be. Its favorite food consists of the prickly-pear cacti from which they get most of their water supplement (fresh water tends to be very scarce on the islands). Some Galapagos land iguanas have been recorded to live from 50 to 60 years!
The Galapagos land iguana population is estimated to have somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals. However, they used to inhabit the islands in bigger numbers that got reduced to the brink of extinction in areas like Cerro Cartago on Isabela Island and Conway Bay at Santa Cruz. This was mainly due to invasive species that fed on land iguanas’ eggs, hatchlings and juveniles. They were so numerous that Charles Darwin disembarked on Santiago Island (formerly known as King James Island) and later wrote in his journal that, “when we were left at James, we could not for some time find a spot free from their burrows on which to pitch our single tent.”
Ongoing, organized conservation efforts by NGO’s and the Galapagos National Park helped eradicate certain threats (rats, cats, dogs and feral goats) in areas that were inhabited by these and other endangered species. Before the arrival of men, Galapagos species had never faced predators other than the ones they were adapted to living with for thousands of years, they had never developed defenses against diseases brought continent-brought diseases, and they never had to compete for space and food.
Galapagos land iguanas can be found on the islands of Santa Cruz, Isabela, North Seymour, South Plaza and Baltra. Choose an Eastern or Western Islands itinerary to observe this stunning, strange and amazing endemic species. Sharing this and other Galapagos creature’s habitat will make you feel connected to nature like never before. But be careful, once here, you’re at high risk of falling in love with the Galapagos!