Iconic animals such as the giant tortoise, marine iguanas, and sea lions are always going to top the bill as Galapagos wildlife holiday highlights. However, the Galapagos Islands are also filled with amazing plants and animals that don’t get to bask in the spotlight, but are truly remarkable and wonderful in their own right. Here are 10 of our favourite underrated Galapagos plants and animals…
1. Lava Cactus
Known as ‘pioneer plants’ Lava Cactus are usually one of the first plants to colonise a fresh lava flow with spiny clumps that grow up to 60cm tall. These plants represent much of what makes Galapagos wonderful, the desire of life to succeed and adapt to survive in even the harshest of conditions. The best examples are to be seen on Sullivan Bay in Santiago Island, Bartolome, Punta Moreno on Isabela Island and Chinese Hat.
2. Galapagos Mockingbirds
It was actually the Galapagos Mockingbirds that were the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution rather than the more famous ‘Darwin’s Finches’. There are 4 species across Galapagos and it was shortly after leaving Galapagos that Darwin first noticed the mockingbirds he had collected from different islands were not all alike. Darwin later found examples of birds that differed even more from island to island (cue finches!) but it was the mockingbirds that first drew Darwin attention to the adaptation of species on Galapagos.
3. Galapagos Fur Seal
These remarkable mammals are the smallest of the fur seals in the world, you would normally only expect to see them in very cold environments due to their very thick fur. They evolved to become smaller than normal in Galapagos to increase their surface area and avoid overheating as they have a double layer of hairs. They came to the Galapagos from the chillier southern parts of South America and stayed in the waters around Galapagos because of the abundance of food. With their cute bear like faces, they are nocturnal but can be seen during the day in places such as James and Seymour and along the cliffs at Genovesa Island.
4. Lava Lizards
There are seven species of lava lizard in the Galapagos. They are a great example of adaptation to different environments and ecosystems as they all vary in size and colour from island to island. They are a joy to photograph, especially the larger individuals on Espanola Island. Also sometimes they pose wonderfully on top of marine iguanas heads where they can often be seen on their heads eating dead skin. They can be seen all across the archipelago on the larger islands with the exception of Genovesa.
5. Swallow-tailed Gulls
A very beautiful bird, with a very noticeable red eye ring. The only nocturnal seagull in the world and only found in the Galapagos Islands. Although they are out all night, they can also be seen during the day, and remain active …. they never seem to sleep! They fish mainly for squid and can be seen on islands such as San Cristobal, Seymour and Genovesa.
6. Galapagos Racer Snake
Unlike most Galapagos animals they are shy of humans and are pretty tough to spot without looking for them specifically. The Fernandina racer is the only snake in the world to be been observed hunting for marine fish from rock pools. It was also the Fernandina racer that rose to fame in 2016 when they were filmed chasing baby marine iguanas as part of the BBC’s Planet Earth II.
7. Sally Light-foot Crab
Not your average crab – these colourful crabs can be seen almost on every island across the Galapagos. Although crustaceans don’t usually get the pulse racing, you can’t help but be impressed by the intense orange and blue colours that contrast beautifully with the black lava, making them probably one of the most photographed crabs in the world!
8. Opuntia Cactus
Only found in the Galapagos, the Opuntia cactus is the most widely distributed and numerous plant in the islands. Also known as ‘prickly pear’ these cactus are a great example of adaptive radiation, which occurs when organisms diversify into a wide variety of types adapted to specialised modes of life. The tallest of these are found in Santa Cruz Island where they can grow 12 meters tall – often seemingly straight out of the lava. The smallest are found on Santa Fe Island reaching just 2.6m.
Scalacia are essentially giant daisy trees which are endemic to the Galapagos Islands. Known by some as the ‘Darwin’s Finches of the plant world due to their great ability of adaptive radiation each of the 15 species has adapted to the different vegetation zones across the different islands in Galapagos. The best places to see Scalacia as lush forests are up in the highlands of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina and Floreana.
10. Galapagos Hawk
Although wildlife that is fearless of humans is nothing remarkable in Galapagos– it always seems incredible to see how unafraid of humans these birds of prey are. The Galapagos Hawk, especially the juveniles due to their curious nature get incredibly close to humans, and have even been known to land on them!
And there it is, our top 10 list of the most underrated Galapagos plants and animals. It was genuinely hard to narrow it down as this list really could go on and on!
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