Walk at the Footsteps of Charles Darwin to Meet the Unique Animals of the Galápagos Islands

Walk at the Footsteps of Charles Darwin to Meet the Unique Animals of the Galápagos Islands

Considered the foremost spot for wildlife viewing, Galapagos Islands hold an intricate ecosystem and a rich history. The archipelago is an exciting destination for naturalists and animal lovers because the animals in the Galapagos directly led Charles Darwin to come up with the theory of evolution after he visited it in 1835. 

The island garnered international fame after being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 70s and has since accommodated hundreds and thousands of tourists yearly.

Galapagos Islands

Peninsula surrounded by turquoise waters.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

The Galapagos island is home to diverse species of animals, some of which do not exist outside the archipelago. This is because many animals evolved independently and carry unique characteristics endemic to the island. Here are 18 animals of Galapagos Islands you can actually see based on real travel experience.

Giant tortoises (20-25,000)

3 giant tortoises. One is climbing up the other.
Photo by Deb Dowd via Unsplash.

Long necks bearing signs of centuries, the Galapagos giant tortoise is a mighty sight to behold. The Galapagos island is home to the world’s largest tortoise species estimated to be 20,000 to 25,000 which is a shard drop compared to their numbers two centuries ago which was 100,000 to 200,000 tortoises.

Yellow land iguanas (4,000)

Orange yellow iguana on a black rock with the ocean behind it.
Photo credit: Simon Berger via Unsplash.

Those hoping to glimpse the evolutionary changes that inspired Darwin can find them in the Galapagos iguanas. The animal, though not unknown, is strikingly different from the lang iguanas that roam worldwide.

Yellow land iguanas have a yellowish tint in their hide, and their sheer size overpowers non-endemic iguanas. They can mostly be found on Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, North Seymour, South Plaza, Santiago, and Baltra Islands. Their current population is around 4,000.

Marine iguanas (200-300,000)

Grey marina iguanas are sunbathing on a rock near the ocean.
Photo credit: Eleanor, Elevate Your Escapes.

An iguana scuttling from land into the ocean’s depths is an unusual sight, but its actions become even more special. This is because the Galapagos marine iguanas are the only species in the world that can dive into the water and feed on algae, a direct proof of the theory of evolution.

Marine iguanas are an exciting observation for biologists and animal lovers, but their unique appearance and distinct feeding habits make them a wonder to witness for everyone else. They can be found on Isabela, Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, and Fernandina Islands.

Sea turtles

Turtle is swimming in the sea.
Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash.

These turtles love to explore, so you’ll find them along many Galapagos islands, although they’ll typically crowd in Espanola and Santa Cruz Island.

Tourists are strictly forbidden from touching the turtles, but luckily, these soft-hearted species will easily approach tourists as long as they keep a healthy distance. This is a rare chance to observe the species up close and soak in their gentle, beautiful nature. 

Sea lions (50,000)

A sea lion is sleeping on a bench.
Photo credit: Shandos Cleaver, Travelnuity.

If you love sea lions, you’ll be delighted to learn they are the most abundant mammals that walk the archipelago. The sea lions at the Galapagos islands are not shy creatures, so they will frequently hop out of the water, startling tourists.

Friendly and cheeky, these sea lions love to chase around people and nestle on the rocks to make it obvious they’re in charge. The Galapagos sea lions are one of the only animals that openly approach humans and even tempt them for petting. But do not give into their dreamy eyes because the interaction could affect their lifestyle.

Blue-footed boobies

A white black bird with vibrant blue feet.
Photo credit: Taylor Kiser, Culture Craving Couple.

A natural anomaly, the gorgeous blue-footed boobies are the only creature in the world with blue-tinted feet. There are two more booby species live on the Galapagos Islands: Nazca Boobies and Red-footed Boobies.

This delightful bird is only found surrounding the archipelago and other secluded spots of the Pacific Ocean, so it’s truly a rare sight.

Galapagos hawk (150 pair)

A hawk is standing on a branch.
Photo credit: Kim Gervais, Explore Your Bucket List.

“As we trekked around Rabidia Island, our guide was quite excited when he spotted a juvenile Galapagos hawk circling around above us. This hawk is endemic to the Galapagos, but it is listed as endangered. It is thought that there are only 150 pairs left, so to see a baby was an encouraging sight. A hush came over our group as the hawk settled itself in a tree right near us and visited for a while. It was a magical moment as we sat and watched him in quiet appreciation. Definitely in the right place, at the right time”, says Kim Gervais, a travel blogger from Explore Your Bucket List.

Frigatebirds (several thousand)

A black bird with a huge red pouch below its beck sitting on a nest.
Photo credit: Getty Images via Unsplash+ License.

Frigatebirds are large seabirds that are a unique sight to behold: their plumage is entirely black save for a bright red throat pouch, which is present solely in the male. Their pouch inflates when the birds chirp or intimidate predators, making it a fascinating sight during mating season. Several thousand pairs are estimated to breed on Galapagos Islands.

Sally lightfoot crab

A crab with red legs and red blue yellow body.
Photo credit: Heather Cole, Conversant Traveller.

Tourists might confuse this creature for a patterned spider, but their long legs make the Sally Lightfoot Crabs a fast scuttler. They typically live near the shore where they can feed on smaller fish, but when not looking for a bite, they will dart across the jet-black volcanic rocks, making them easy to spot.

These crabs have a light brown shell, with legs spotted in light red and yellow. Their unique coloration makes them an easy target for local birds, but they can dodge an attack with surprising swiftness.

Hammerhead sharks

Hammerhead shark is swimming above light brown sand.
Photo credit: Photo by Michael Worden via Unsplash.

Land animals in Galapagos are what most people think first, but the islands have a large marine reserve with just as many interesting species. The highest concentration of sharks in the world is here.

If you want to dive hundreds of protected hammerhead sharks, head to Galapagos Islands during January. You will easily identify them from the shape of their heads. Download the Sharkcount app from Galapagos Conservancy where you can see where is the best spot to dive.

Brown pelican

A brown pelican is flying in the sky.
Photo credit: Getty Images via Unsplash+ License.

The brown pelican is found in several areas worldwide, but the species residing on the island is endemic. Their mousy brown plumage makes them a beautiful sight, but the best sighting is when they hunt.

The brown pelican nosedives into the water and grabs a large fish, which it often swallows in one go. While this hunting strategy is shared with pelicans, seeing it up close makes it an impressive sight. Amazingly, the brown pelican isn’t shy, so it approaches humans frequently.

Flightless cormorants (1,000 pairs)

Flightless cormorant
Photo credit: Maridav via Canva Pro.

If you didn’t know flightless cormorants existed, this is because they only live on the Galapagos island. This alone makes them unique, but the exciting history makes them one of a kind.

The Galapagos cormorants evolved over centuries, changing their DNA structure so they’re born flightless. This is why the bird is seen scuttling across rocks. There are an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs living in Isabela and Fernandina Islands.

Galapagos penguins (2,000)

A penguin in standing on a rock.
Photo credit: Maridav via Canva Pro.

The Galapagos islands are home to an exceptional species of penguins because they are the only ones found outside Antarctica and in closer areas. This fantastic feature is another testament to the theory of evolution; the Galapagos penguins evolved over centuries to bear warmer climates and, ironically, might not survive if they were to move to Antarctica. Luckily for penguin lovers, they are a common sight, especially if you are close to the shore. More than 90% of their population lives around Fernandina and Isabela Islands.

Galapagos fur seal

Fur seals are lying on a rocky sandy beach
Photo credit: Alberto Loyo via Canva Pro.

Galapagos fur seals are the only subspecies to adapt to warmer climates. Their thick fur doesn’t affect their time in the warm ocean, so they often splash around.

Their adorable eyes hide a cheeky and slightly aggressive behavior, the latter observable when they hunt for fish or occasionally fight each other.

Darwin’s finches

Darwin’s finches
Photo credit: Maridav via Canva Pro.

These unique birds are the direct cause behind Darwin’s theories. Those interested in learning about their unique characteristics will be able to do so from a single glance.

Darwin’s finches are 13 finch species, each distinct from the other, although closely related.

Vermillion flycatcher

A small vibrant red bird is sitting on a branch.
Photo credit: Brockswood via Canva Pro.

The Vermillion flycatcher, also called Darwin’s flycatcher, is one of the easiest birds to watch, thanks to its distinct bright red plumage. The back of the vermillion flycatcher’s plumage is deep black, making it even more mesmerizing.

Galapagos mockingbird

A small brown bird is sitting on a small branch.
Photo credit: Guenter Guni via Canva Pro.

Many islands in the Galapagos archipelago come alive with the warbles of the six subspecies of mockingbirds that live there. 

The Galapagos mockingbirds are omnivores, so they will swoop in on an insect and pluck it from the ground or even go for the smaller rodents running around the island. 

Yellow warbler

A small vibrant yellow bird is sitting on a branch with leaves.
Photo credit: Elmvilla via Canva Pro.

A bright yellow glint that quickly flutters by, the yellow warbler might be confused for the rays of sunshine that typically peek through the trees. Although not endemic to the Galapagos, the species that strictly stays here has evolved.

The Galapagos yellow warblers are easy to spot once you focus on their tweets, a sweet, low-sounding melody that echoes in the skies. 

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Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.