GALAPAGOS ISLANDS ANIMALS: THE STARS OF THE SHOW
Galapagos Islands animals are the big money-shot for visitors. This is what has made the famous archipelago one of the most popular wildlife travel destinations on the planet!
What is special about the animals on the Galapagos Islands? Visitors are rewarded by uniquely evolved Galapagos creatures, many of which can only be found here. Galapagos is, of course, also known for the tameness of Galapagos Islands animals. Expect to be totally blown away by the up-close animal encounters. It's rather like walking into your own Discovery Channel or NatGeo documentary!
What kind of animals are in the Galapagos Islands? Read on to find out! We'll cover all of the most iconic Galapagos Islands animals, plus how to organize your own trip to see them. If you're looking for a truly unique wildlife vacation, then the Galapagos Islands tick all of the right boxes.
What Kind of Animals are in the Galapagos Islands?
Broadly speaking the animals of the Galapagos Islands can be divided into 2 categories: Marine Animals & Land Animals.
Most Galapagos Islands animals can be spotted year-round at the archipelago, however, Galapagos weather seasons do affect animal behavior and habits. The warm & wet season (December to May) favors animals on land. Rain showers transform the vegetation into a lush green paradise, with abundant food for land birds and reptiles. In comparison, the cool & dry season (June to November/December) favors the Galapagos marine animals. The cold Humboldt current brings rich nutrients from Antarctica, making perfect conditions for ocean feeders like sea birds, sea lions, and even whales.
In this blog, we'll tell you much more about the different species of Galapagos Islands Animals. We've divided them into 3 separate categories: 1. Reptiles, 2. Marine Mammals, and 3. Molluscs. For more detailed information about each animal at Galapagos just follow the individual links in each section.
1. Land Iguana (Galapagos endemic species)
Galapagos Land Iguanas are easily recognised by their bright yellow scales, and comparatively large size. They live in zones of arid scrubland, usually close to cactus forest which is their principal food source – they eat cactus pads, spines and all! They are often solitary creatures, unlike Marine Iguanas who prefer to group together into large colonies.
Galapagos Iguanas have evolved into various subspecies on different islands, including the rare Pink Land Iguana that is only found on the slopes of Wolf Volcano. They can also be found on North Seymour, Fernandina, Isabela and Santa Cruz islands.
2. Giant Tortoise (Galapagos endemic species)
One of the show-stoppers at Galapagos is the Giant Tortoise, probably the most iconic animal at the Galapagos Islands. They are usually found lumbering along highland trails, or wallowing in mud pools. Made famous by visiting botanist Charles Darwin, the Giant Tortoise is a wonderful example of species evolution in action. Originally, 2-3 million years ago, a mainland species of tortoise drifted to Galapagos on ocean currents. Today, that one species has evolved into 15 unique tortoise subspecies on different islands. Each subspecies is differentiated by size, habitat and shell types (dome-shaped or saddle-back). They also evolved into giants, weighing up to an 900 pounds – capable of growing this big due to abundant food sources and lack of predators.
To see Galapagos Tortoises in their natural habitat the highlands of Santa Cruz or Isabela are your best bet. There are also several Tortoise Breeding Centers that you can visit, helping to raise hatchlings for release back into the wild.
3. Green Sea Turtle (breeding endemic species at Galapagos)
Green Sea Turtles are a common sight right across the Galapagos Islands, as they surface for air, or slowly drift past excited snorkelers. These gentle giants are the only turtle species to breed and nest at the Galapagos Islands. Nesting sites can be seen at Las Bachas (Santa Cruz), Cormorant Point (Floreana), and other sites. After hatching, new turtle babies face a true race for survival. Firstly, they must negotiate their way to the sea before hungry Frigate Birds or Galapagos Hawks swoop for them. Even those that reach the ocean have more trials ahead of them, as sharks and other marine species look for food. Typically only 1 in 1000 may survive to adulthood.
Other Sea Turtle species that can be spotted in Galapagos Islands waters include: Leatherback, Hawksbill, and the smaller Olive Ridley Turtle.
4. Marine Iguana (Galapagos Islands endemic species)
The Galapagos Marine Iguana is a remarkable species, and definitely one for the unique Galapagos Islands animals list. They are the only Iguana in the world to have developed the ability to swim. Marine iguanas enter the sea to forage for algae, and are extremely agile in the water, using their powerful tails to steer. When on land they are often spotted huddled together in groups to generate warmth under the sun. After swimming, their bodies reject sea salt by sneezing it out of their nose via specialized glands.
5. Lava Lizard (Galapagos endemic species)
Pretty much any island that you visit at Galapagos you’ll see cute, little Lava Lizards scurrying about the place. Females are distinctive for their red throats, while males can be spotted doing push-ups to protect their territory from rivals. You might even catch a live push-up contest if a rival fancies his chances - they can be quite intense! There are seven different species of Galapagosa Lava Lizard, and they can be spotted on all islands except Genovesa, Darwin & Wolf.
6. Galapagos Snakes (Galapagos endemic species)
There are four different species of endemic snake at the Galapagos Islands: Hood Racer, Galapagos Racer, Banded Galapagos Snake & Striped Galapagos Snake. They are small constrictor snakes, and pose no threat to human visitors, feeding instead on Lava Lizards, Geckos, Grasshoppers, small Marine Iguanas and Mice.
Galapagos Racer Snakes leaped to fame on the 2016 BBC Planet Earth documentary, where incredible footage of snakes chasing a Marine Iguana went viral on the internet, with over 13 million views! Spoiler alert: the iguana manages to escape by the skin of his teeth.
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MARINE MAMMALS
1. Galapagos Sea Lion (endemic species)
Another big Galapagos animal crowd-pleaser is the friendly Sea Lion. Often observed sleeping on beaches (or benches!), or playing in shallow waters, sea lions are very social animals. They will often come right up to check tourists out. A snorkeling experience with these inquisitive mammals will often be one of the main highlights of your Galapagos Islands visit.
Big male bulls patrol their territory, to defend their harem of females against interlopers. Meanwhile, poor non-dominant bulls are left to form their own bachelor colonies. You will literally see Galapagos Sea Lions everywhere, with particularly large colonies at Gardner Bay (Española), Isla Lobos (San Cristobal), and the Harbour Area of Isabela Island.
2. Galapagos Fur Seal (endemic species)
The Galapagos Fur Seal is a much shyer creature than the Galapagos Sea Lion, and therefore more difficult to spot. The best visitor sites to find them are in the grottos of James Bay (Santiago), or Darwin Bay (Genovesa). At first sight it is common to mistake them for Sea Lions, but a closer look can help to tell the difference. Fur seals are smaller in size, have bulgier eyes, and furrier skin. They hunt largely at night, where their large eyes aid with excellent night vision, to both catch their prey and avoid predators such as sharks.
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS MOLLUSCS
1. Sally Lightfoot Crab
The unmistakable Sally-Lightfoot Crab is present on all Galapgos islands. They are usually spotted scurrying around rock pools, or hiding in the crevaces of black lava. Visitors love these crabs for their dramatically colorful appearance – bright red body, light blue under carriage, orange face, and beady pink eyes.
They are very fast and agile on the land, and even capable of quickly skipping over water, hence the “light foot” name and reputation. Interestingly, you will often spot Sally Light Foots alongside Marine Iguanas, eating bugs from their skin. This is a unique symbiotic relationship, where the crabs get a tasty meal by helping rid the iguanas or parasites on the skin.
2. Fiddler Crab
Fiddler Crabs get their name from their unusual appearance. They have one large claw (for protection, and attracting females), and another smaller one (for picking things up). When eating they use the small claw to transport food to the mouth, giving the amusing appearance of playing a violin (the large claw). They are usually found making their burrows around mangrove roots.
3. Ghost Crab
Cute Ghost Crabs are common on Galapagos Islands beaches, recognised by their orange/red body, and long stalk eyes. These little crabs burrow in the sand, and move impossibly quickly to catch. If you spot little balls of sand on the beach then you know Ghost Crabs are closeby – they make these balls while searching for algae and animal remains to eat.
4. Galapagos Hermit Crab (endemic species)
There are two different species of hermits: the endemic Galapagos Hermit Crab, and the Semi-Terrestrial Hermit Crab. Hermits are easily identified by the distinctive shell on their back which they use for protection. As they grow older they need to move into a larger shell.
How to See Animals at the Galapagos Islands?
The good news is that you’re guaranteed to see a great diversity of Galapagos animals on any type of vacation to the Islands.
Take either a Galapagos Cruise or Galapagos Land Tour to come face to face with most of the Galapagos Islands animals that we have talked about in this blog. There is more wildlife than you can imagine, often at very close quarters as their curiosity gets the better of them. Your naturalist tour guide will be happy to point them out to you, and explain all about the behavior of each animal. With either a professional camera or cellphone you'll easily return home with some amazing Galapagos animal shots.
Contact us if you need help to plan and organise your Galapagos Islands Vacation. We'll be happy to send a FREE TOUR QUOTE, and help to find your perfect Galapagos Islands tour. Happy Gringo Travel is highly recommended by Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, and the Footprint Guide. We've helped over 10k happy visitors to realize their dream trip to the Galapagos Islands since 2004.
What is the Most Common Animal in the Galapagos Islands?
The answer really depends on where you are at Galapagos, and which habitat you are visiting.
Up in the highlands, expect to come across lumbering Giant Tortoises, lounging in mud pools, or munching on vegetation.
In arid zones, look out for Lava Lizards, scurrying between rocks.
Closer to shore, on lava rocks, the most common Galapagos Islands animal is the marine iguana, often spotted huddling together in their hundreds. Sally Lightfoot Crabs are also common.
The undisputed king of the Galapagos beach is the Galapagos sea lion, lazing on the sand, or swimming in the shallows. Green Sea Turtles are also everywhere in the water.
Books & Resources About Galapagos Islands Animals
For further reading about Galapagos Islands animals, check out the following useful resources.
A good online option is the Galapagos Wildlife App for cellphones. It does require a small upfront investment but is useful to help with the identification of Galapagos animals and birds.
It can also help to have a Galapagos Islands animals photo list to hand. We particularly like the Wildlife of Galapagos by Collins Publications, which is a compact field guide. For something more lightweight try this foldable pocket guide. Both of these guides are available to order online on Amazon.
As you can see there is a wonderful mix of Galapagos Islands animals waiting for you to visit. Many can only be found at Galapagos, and have evolved in unique and curious ways. Most Galapagos animals have no fear of humans, so are happy to be up close to tourists, and pose for photos. Thanks to all of this, the Galapagos Islands are recognized as one of the best wildlife destinations in the world … so what are you waiting for? Get your vacation planning started today!