Galapagos Wildlife Pictures

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Wildlife of the Galapagos

The twin bays and Pinnacle Rock photographed from the highest point on Bartolomé Island.
The twin bays and Pinnacle Rock photographed from the highest point on Bartolomé Island. Photo © Pete / Wikipedia.

A Visual Guide to the Galapagos Islands and Its Unique Wildlife

The wildlife of the Galapagos Islands includes some of the world's most unique animals—marine iguanas, Galapagos land iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos tortoises and many others. Here you can browse a collection of images of Galapagos wildlife.

Although the Galapagos Islands are located on the equator, they are not exceedingly hot by tropical standards, with average daytime temperatures in the lowlands reaching about 85°F. The islands are usually quite dry and experience only a short rainy season. The climate is greatly influenced by the Pacific's Humbolt Current, which carries cool water from the Antarctic northward along the South American coast to the Galapagos.

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Mina Granillo Rojo

Mina Granillo Rojo, Santa Cruz, Galapagos.
Mina Granillo Rojo, Santa Cruz, Galapagos. Photo © Foxie / Shutterstock.

The Galapagos Islands are located above a hotspot in the Earth's crust. This hotspot, also referred to as a mantle plume, is a column of heated rock that reaches from deep within the Earth's layers. The heated rock rises and as it does it decompresses and partially melts, forming magma.

The magma accumulates in the top layer of the earth (the lithosphere) where it forms magma chambers located a few kilometers below the surface. From time to time, magma chambers make their way to the surface and the result is a volcanic eruption.

Over the centuries, the magma plume under the Galapagos has forced the lithosphere upward and eruptions have thickened the crust. The result is a volcano that, in the case of the Galapagos, eventually grows tall enough to emerge from the surrounding ocean.

The Galapagos are similar to Hawaii, the Azores, and Reunion Island, which are also the result of mantle plumes.

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San Cristobal

San Cristobal, Galapagos
San Cristobal, Galapagos. Photo © Foxie / Shutterstock.

The Galapagos Islands have a history of visits from clergy, explorers, pirates, convicts, whalers, naturalists, and artists. Those who first discovered the islands found them to be virtually uninhabitable. The islands lacked adequate supplies of freshwater and were surrounded by dangerous currents. But this did not discourage pirates who used the islands as hide-outs. Later, whaling outposts and penal colonies came and went from the islands. One of history's most famous visits to the Galapagos was made in 1835, when the HMS Beagle brought Charles Darwin to the islands. It was this visit and his studies of the native flora and fauna that played an instrumental part in the formation of his theory of natural selection. Finally, extensive protection was laid down for the islands, establishing them as a national park, World Heritage Site, and Biosphere Reserve.

The following are some key dates in the history of the Galapagos Islands:

  • 1535 - Founded by Spaniard, Fray Tomas de Barianga, Bishop of Panama and his party. Barianga was en route to Peru when his ship was blown off course and they stumbled upon the Galapagos.
  • 1790s - Several scientific voyages to the Galapagos Islands were made during this decade.
  • 1832 - Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands.
  • 1835 - The HMS Beagle under the command of captain Robert FitzRoy brought Charles Darwin to the islands where he studied the natural history of the islands, its flora, and its animal inhabitans.
  • 1959 - The islands were given National Park designation.
  • 1968 - The Galapagos National Park was established with the aim to preserve the archipelago's biodiversity. Today, 97% of the land area is protected.
  • 1979 - The Galapagos Islands were made a World Heritage Site.
  • 1985 - The Galapagos Islands were made a Biosphere Reserve.
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Galapagos Marine Iguana

Marine iguana - Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Marine iguana - Amblyrhynchus cristatus. Photo © Adam Hewitt Smith / Shutterstock.

The marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) is a large iguana that reaches lengths of 2ft-3ft. It is gray to black in color and has prominant dorsal scales.

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Lava Lizard

Lava lizard - Microlophus albemarlensis
Lava lizard - Microlophus albemarlensis. Photo © Ben Queenborough / Getty Images.

The lava lizard (Microlophus albemarlensis) is a native of the Galapagos Islands. Lava lizards are usually dark brown to reddish brown in color but their color can vary depending on age, sex, and location. Mature females have a distinguishing red patch on their throat and cheeks. Males reach sizes of between 22cm and 25cm while femails are smaller, reaching 17cm to 20cm.

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Frigatebird

Photo © Chris Beall / Getty Images.

Frigatebirds (Fregatidae) are large seabirds that spend much of their time at sea (they are therefore referred to as pelagic). Their range includes tropical and subtropical oceans and they nest on remote islands or coastal mangrove forests. Frigatebirds have predominantly iridescent black plumage, long narrow wings, and a forked tail.

Males have a large, bright red gular pouch (located on the front of their throat) that they use in courtship display. The male frigatbirds assemble in a group and each inflates its gular pouch and points its bill upwards. When a female flies over the group of males, they pat their bill against the pouch to make a thumping noise. When this display is successful, the female lands next to the selected mate. Frigatebirds form monogomas pairs each season.

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Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally lightfoot crab - Grapsus grapsus
Sally lightfoot crab - Grapsus grapsus. Photo © Peter Widmann / Getty Images.

Sally lightfoot crabs (Grapsus grapsus), also known as red rock crabs, are scavengers and are common along much of South America's western coastlines and on the Galapagos islands. These crabs range in color from a dull brownish-red to pink or even yellow. Their coloration often makes them stand out against the dark volcanic rocks of the Galapagos shores.

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Galapagos Tortoise

Galapagos tortoise - Geochelone nigra
Galapagos tortoise - Geochelone nigra. Photo © Steve Allen / Getty Images.

The Galapagos tortoise (Geochelone nigra) is the largest of all living tortoises, reaching lengths of up to 4 feet and weights of over 350 pounds. Galapagos tortoises have long lifespans often living for over 100 years. These reptiles are vulnerable and suffer from the threats of introduced species. Cats and rats prey on young tortoises while cattle and goats compete for the tortoise's food source.

The Galapagos tortoise's shell is black and its shape varies among the subspecies. The carapace of some subspecies is upturned just above the neck, enabling the tortoise to reach its neck up to grasp onto taller vegetation.

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Galapagos Land Iguana

Galapagos land iguana - Conolophus subcristatus
Galapagos land iguana - Conolophus subcristatus. Photo © Juergen Ritterbach / Getty Images.

The Galapagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) is a large lizard reaching lengths in excess of 48in. The Galapagos land iguana is dark brown to yellow-orange in color and has large pointed scales that run along its neck and down its back. Its head is blunt in shape and it has a long tail, substantial claws, and a heavy body.

Galapagos land iguanas are natives to the Galapagos Islands. They are vegetarian, feeding primarily on the prickly pear cactus.

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Galapagos Marine Iguana - Amblyrhynchus cirstatus

Marine iguana - Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Marine iguana - Amblyrhynchus cristatus. Photo © Ben Queenborough / Getty Images.

The marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cirstatus) is a unique species. It is thought that they are the ancestors of land iguanas that arrived to the Galapagos millions of years ago after floating from mainland South America on rafts of vegetation or debris. Some of the land iguanas that made their way to the Galapagos later gave rise to the marine iguana.

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Red-Footed Booby

Red-footed booby - Sula sula
Red-footed booby - Sula sula. Photo © Wayne Lynch / Getty Images.

The red-footed booby (Sula sula) is a large, colonial seabird that inhabits a wide range throughout the tropics. Adult red-footed boobies have red legs and feet, a blue bill, and pink throat patches. Red-footed boobies have several different morphs including a white morph, a black tailed white morph, and a brown morph. Most of the red-footed boobies that inhabit the Galapagos are of the brown morph, although a few white morphs occur there as well. Red-footed boobies feed at sea by plunge-diving for prey such as fish or squid.

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Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-footed booby - Sula nebouxii
Blue-footed booby - Sula nebouxii. Photo © Rebecca Yale / Getty Images.

The blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is an endearing seabird with bright seafoam-blue webbed feet and a blue-gray face to match. The blue-footed booby belongs to the Pelecaniformes and has long pointed wings and a narrow pointed bill. Male blue-footed boobies show off their blue feet during their courtship dance, in which he picks up his feet and displays them in an exagerated step-walk. There are approximately 40,000 breeding pairs of blue-footed boobies in the world and half of them inhabit the Galapagos Islands.

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Galapagos Marine Iguana

Marine iguana - Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Marine iguana - Amblyrhynchus cristatus. Photo © Wildestanimal / Getty Images.

Marine iguanas feed on marine algae and they must swim in the cold waters surrounding the Galapagos to forage. Because these iguanas rely on the environment to maintain their body temperature, they must bask in the sun to heat up before diving. Their dark gray-black color helps them absorb sunlight quickly and thus warm their bodies. The marine iguana's natural predators include hawks, snakes, short-eared owls, hawkfish and crabs and also faces threats from introduced predators such as cats, dogs, and rats.

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Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos penguin - Spheniscus mendiculus
Galapagos penguin - Spheniscus mendiculus. Photo © Mark Jones / Getty Images.

The Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the only species of penguin that lives north of the equator. It is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and is classified as endangered because of its small range, low numbers, and declining population. The Galapagos penguin takes advantage of the cool waters of the Humboldt and Cromwell Currents that surround the Galapagos. Galapagos penguins are found in greatest numbers on the islands of Fernandina and Isabelai.

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Waved Albatross

Waved albatross - Phoebastria irrorata
Waved albatross - Phoebastria irrorata. Photo © Mark Jones / Getty Images.

The waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata), also called the Galapagos albatross, is the largest of all birds on the Galapagos Islands. Waved albatrosses are the only member of the albatross family that lives in the tropics. Waved albatrosses do not live exclusively in the Galapagos Islands but also inhabit along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru.

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Swallow-Tailed Gull

Swallow-tailed gull - Creagrus furcatus
Swallow-tailed gull - Creagrus furcatus. Photo © Suraark / Getty Images.

The swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus) breeds primarily on Wolf, Genovesa, and Esapanola Islands in the Galapagos. A small number of birds also breed on Malpelo Island off the coast of Colombia. Outside of the breeding season, the swallow-tailed gull is a pelagic, nocturnal seabird. It spends its time flying over the open ocean, preying at night on squid and small fish.

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Medium Ground Finch

Medium ground finch - Geospiza fortis
Medium ground finch - Geospiza fortis. Photo © FlickreviewR / Wikipedia.

The medium ground finch (Geospiza fortis) is one of 14 species of finches on the Galapagos that are derived from a common ancestor in a relatively short period of time (that being about 2 to 3 million years). Another species of finch, also derived from the same common ancestor, is found on Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica. The medium ground finch is among those finches referred to as Darwin's finches. Despite their common name, they are no longer classified as finches but instead as tanagers. The various species of Darwin's finches vary in their size and shape of their beak. Their diversity enables them to take advantage of different habitats and food sources.

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Cactus Ground Finch

Cactus ground finch - Geospiza scandens
Cactus ground finch - Geospiza scandens. Photo © Putneymark / Flickr.

The cactus ground finch (Geospiza scandens) is one of 14 species of finches on the Galapagos that are derived from a common ancestor in a relatively short period of time (that being about 2 to 3 million years). Another species of finch, also derived from the same common ancestor, is found on Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica. The cactus ground finch is among those finches referred to as Darwin's finches. Despite their common name, they are no longer classified as finches but instead as tanagers. The various species of Darwin's finches vary in their size and shape of their beak. Their diversity enables them to take advantage of different habitats and food sources.

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Small Ground Finch

Small ground finch - Geospiza fuliginosa
Small ground finch - Geospiza fuliginosa. Photo © Putneymark / Flickr.

The small ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa) is one of 14 species of finches on the Galapagos that are derived from a common ancestor in a relatively short period of time (that being about 2 to 3 million years). Another species of finch, also derived from the same common ancestor, is found on Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica. The small ground finch is among those finches referred to as Darwin's finches. Despite their common name, they are no longer classified as finches but instead as tanagers. The various species of Darwin's finches vary in their size and shape of their beak. Their diversity enables them to take advantage of different habitats and food sources.

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Small Tree Finch

Small tree finch - Camarhynchus parvulus
Small tree finch - Camarhynchus parvulus. Photo © TripleFastAction / iStockphoto.

The small tree finch (Camarhynchus parvenus) is one of 14 species of finches on the Galapagos that are derived from a common ancestor in a relatively short period of time (that being about 2 to 3 million years). Another species of finch, also derived from the same common ancestor, is found on Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica. The small tree finch is among those finches referred to as Darwin's finches. Despite their common name, they are no longer classified as finches but instead as tanagers. The various species of Darwin's finches vary in their size and shape of their beak. Their diversity enables them to take advantage of different habitats and food sources.

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Galapagos Sea Lion

Galapagos sea lion - Zalophus wollebaeki
Galapagos sea lion - Zalophus wollebaeki. Photo © Paul Souders / Getty Images.

Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) are a smaller cousin of the California sea lion. Galapagos sea lions breed on the Galapagos Islands as well as on the Isla de la Plata, a small island that lies just off the coast of Ecuador. Galapagos sea lions feed on sardines and gather in large colonies to sunbathe on sandy beaches or rocky shores.

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Sally Lightfoot Crab

Sally lightfoot crab - Grapsus grapsus
Sally lightfoot crab - Grapsus grapsus. Photo © Rebvt / Shutterstock.

Sally lightfoot crabs, also known as red rock crabs, are scavengers and are common along much of South America's western coastlines. These crabs range in color from a dull brownish-red to pink or even yellow. Their coloration often makes them stand out against the dark volcanic rocks of the Galapagos shores

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Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby - Sula nebouxii
Blue-Footed Booby - Sula nebouxii. Photo © Mariko Yuki / Shutterstock.

The blue-footed booby is an endearing seabird with bright seafoam-blue webbed feet and a blue-gray face to match. The blue-footed booby belongs to the Pelecaniformes and has long pointed wings and a narrow pointed bill. Male blue-footed boobies show off their blue feet during their courtship dance, in which he picks up his feet and displays them in an exagerated step-walk. There are approximately 40,000 breeding pairs of blue-footed boobies in the world and half of them inhabit the Galapagos Islands.

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Galapagos Map

Map of the main islands in the Galapagos Archipelago.
Map of the main islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. Map © NordNordWest / Wikipedia.

The Galapagos Islands are part of the country of Ecuador and are located on the equator about 600 miles west of the South American coast. The Galapagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands that includes 13 larger islands, 6 small islands, and over 100 islets.