Endemic Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a paradise for reptiles: the conditions are perfect for iguanas, lizards and tortoises. Reptiles historically had an advantage over mammals when it came to arriving to the islands: it is thought that most land animals that arrived by chance into the Galapagos came clinging to clumps of vegetation or wood set adrift from the mainland. Mammals need more water and were much less likely to survive the journey to the Galapagos Islands, whereas reptiles had the endurance for the trip.
Once they arrived to Galapagos, reptiles soon began to thrive and adapt themselves to the available ecological niches. Over the millennia, these reptiles have changed so much that they no longer resemble their ancestors who arrived to the islands so long ago. The Galapagos reptiles evolved in remarkable ways, and most reptiles found in the islands are now considered endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world. Here are some of the more extraordinary endemic Galapagos reptiles.
Galapagos Giant Tortoise
There are no large land mammals native to the Galapagos: herbivores such as goats were introduced later. The Galapagos Tortoise found that with such a ready supply of food and no predators, they could grow, and they evolved into the massive, lumbering creatures visitors see on the Islands today. They are perfectly adapted to the cool highlands where there is plenty of lush vegetation and lots of mud for them to wallow in.
Although pirates and sailors hunted these astounding creatures, negatively impacting their populations, recent conservation efforts for the remaining Galapagos Giant Tortoise subspecies have been very successful. There are now more of them living now in the wild since before passing ships started capturing them hundreds of years ago.
Galapagos Marine Iguana
The Galapagos Marine Iguana is truly one of the most striking animals in the Islands. These dark colored iguanas feed underwater, gnawing algae off of rocks that are sometimes as deep as 15 meters (50 feet)! Its body temperature can drop several degrees while feeding, so they are commonly seen soaking up sunshine on lava rocks, bringing their temperature back to a normal level. They are common throughout the islands and a favorite among visitors.
Galapagos Land Iguana
The land iguanas more closely resemble their mainland cousins, both in appearance and diet, than the marine iguanas. As iguanas go, they are quite large and their bright yellow color makes them a remarkable sight. They are commonly seen lumbering through dry scrubland and eating vegetation. One of their favorite foods is cactus pads, which they eat spines and all: the thick skin on their mouths makes them able to do so without having to go see the dentist!
It seems everywhere you go in the Galapagos, little lava lizards scurry about. These small lizards, some reaching a foot long or more, hang out on rocks or in scrubby vegetation. Actually, there are seven subspecies of lava lizards in the islands: they have been on the different islands long enough to develop different characteristics according to the environment of each island. If you show an experienced guide a photo of a lava lizard, he or she will be able to tell you on which island the photo was taken!
Other endemic Galapagos reptiles
There is a species of iguana known at the “pink iguana” living in the highlands of Isabela: they are unrelated to the regular, more common land iguanas found elsewhere. Also, there are three subspecies of snakes in Galapagos, all of which are endemic and look mostly the same: small, harmless brownish snakes much like garter snakes common around the world. There are also some endemic geckos in the Galapagos, which can occasionally be seen at night in the towns.