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The Iguanas of the Galapagos Islands

For nature lovers on Galapagos holidays, sightings of Land and Marine Iguanas are a much-anticipated part of this once in a lifetime experience.

The striking, pre-historic looking iguanas of the Galapagos Islands are among the best known of the archipelago's unique wildlife. For nature lovers who travel to this remote and beautiful part of the world on Galapagos holidays, sightings of both Land and Marine Iguanas are a much-anticipated part of the experience.

The Marine Iguana

As the world's only ocean-going reptile, the endemic Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) enjoys a unique status. The species is prolific all over the archipelago and is one of the highest-profile animals to be seen on Galapagos holidays.

Living mainly around the rugged, rocky shores, it has evolved the ability to swim out into the ocean to find food, subsisting on seaweed and other algae as well as smaller species of crustaceans. The Marine Iguana has the ability to dive to depths of 40ft in search of food sources and stay underwater for up to an hour, due to its ability to vastly reduce its body temperature.

Other adaptations include a shortened nose, which allows them to feed on algae; an elongated and flattened tail to assist with propulsion through the water; and the ability to rid their own body (by sneezing) of the excess salt consumed through their diet. But their most remarkable evolutionary adaptation is the ability to reduce their body length when food sources are scarce, by absorbing parts of their bones. When food becomes readily available again they return to a regular size.

There is an estimated population of up to 300,000 Marine Iguanas throughout the archipelago, comprising seven sub-species. Visitors will enjoy plenty of sightings, with particularly abundant numbers on Santa Cruz, Santa Fé, Española, San Cristóbal, Fernandina, Genovesa, South Plaza, Isabela, Santiago and Seymour Islands.

The Land Iguana

There are far fewer of the three species of Land Iguanas, with an estimated population of around 5,000-10,000 in total. Conolophus marthae is only found on Isabela Island around Wolf Volcano, Conolophus pallidus is unique to Santa Fe, and Conolophus subcristatus can be found on six islands of the archipelago. They grow up to five feet in length (depending on the species) and have a lifespan of up to, and even beyond, 50 years. While the population experienced a massive decline on some islands due to feral dogs, in more recent times elimination of the dogs, as well as the implementation of breeding programmes have seen numbers increase again. Land Iguanas live in drier parts of the landscape and are primarily herbivorous (although they may occasionally feed on small insects to supplement their diet), feeding on accessible vegetation like low-growing fruit, leaves and shrubs. With a dearth of fresh water in their habitat they also consume large amounts of cacti, which contain lots of moisture.

Galapagos Holidays – A Unique Wildlife Experience

Charles Darwin observed that these remote islands provided a veritable "paradise" for reptilian species, as they are perfectly adapted to the changing climatic conditions and relative lack of food sources. For wildlife enthusiasts looking for the opportunity to encounter reptiles, birds and mammals that can't be seen anywhere else on the planet, organised Galapagos holidays provide that truly memorable experience.

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