The Galapagos Big 15: Wildlife you shouldn't miss out on!

If you’re looking for wildlife, the Galapagos Archipelago is a one-of-a-kind destination. Here, visitors travel back in time as they experience life before man, walking alongside hulking giant tortoises, ever-curious sea lion pups and dynamic volcanic landscapes. Tourists are drawn to this secluded utopia by the enormous variety of life that the islands hold. However, the islands also cover an immense distance, in fact over 138,000 Km2 (53,300 mi2), astounding visitors from every part of the world.

“It’s quite simple: The more iconic species you see on the Galapagos Islands, the more rewarding and memorable your experience will be!”

It can be difficult for visitors to choose which sites to visit and what to see, due to the archipelago’s colossal size. Therefore, the renowned Galapagos cruise operator Metropolitan Touring created together with scholars, naturalist guides and island aficionados a list of the most exceptional and captivating wildlife known as the BIG 15, which includes the most exemplary flora and fauna in the Galapagos. You can find this list below.

Galapagos Albatross

Island Exclusive Species: found only on Española Island. The Galapagos or waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) is the only tropical albatross, and the largest bird in the Galapagos, with a wingspan of up to 250 centimetres (8.2 feet). Albatrosses have a spectacular mating ritual of bill fencing and beak circling and clacking. They can only be seen between April 1 and December.

Blue-Footed Booby

Thanks to their expressive mating dance, blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii) are among visitors’ favourite animals. During the dance, males display their amazing blue feet in up-and-down movements to attract females. The more turquoise they are, the more successful they will be with the ladies. Their biggest breeding colonies are on Española and North Seymour, but foraging birds are seen in all islands.

Nazca Booby

The Nazca booby (Sula granti) is easily distinguishable from the other Galapagos booby species thanks to its snow-white plumage, offset with black wing and tail feathers and feet. The main colonies are in Genovesa, Española, and Floreana. Non breeding birds are seen on cliffs along most islands.

Red-Footed Booby

Limited Distribution Species. The booby with the largest population, the red-footed booby (Sula sula) is, ironically, the most rarely seen Galapagos booby because it feeds on the outskirts of the archipelago’s waters, leading them to nest on outlying isles like Genovesa and San Cristóbal, although they may be seen elsewhere. Its beak is light blue, turning to pink around the mouth, and its feet are characteristically red, while its plumage varies from white to brown.

Flightless Cormorant

Limited Distribution Species: Found only on Fernandina and the west coast of Isabela. The flightless or Galapagos cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi) is the world’s biggest and heaviest cormorant. It is also the only one that has lost its ability to fly. This has required particular adaptations: Uniquely, Galapagos cormorants have solid bones and no oil at all to spread along feathers that now 5 look more like fur.

American Flamingo

A very small population of American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) are permanent residents of Galapagos, spread among a few islands that have suitable conditions for the main food of these birds, mainly brine shrimp. Flamingos have spectacular breeding rituals, and extraordinary adaptations to survive in extreme harsh conditions. They can stand up to 145 centimetres (57 inches) tall.

Frigatebirds (Great and Magnificent)

Unusually, two different species of frigatebird coexist practically side-by-side on the Galapagos: the great (Fregata minor), and the magnificent (Fregata magnificens), the largest species of frigatebird. This marine birds exceeds in flying skills, allowing them to steal food from other species.

Galapagos Hawk

The Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), the largest endemic bird of prey and the top of the terrestrial food chain. They can be seen on several islands including Santa Fe, Española, Santiago, and Isabela, while they are absent in all areas with human population and on Genovesa probably because of an absence of their key food, the lava lizards.

Land Iguana

Land iguanas play an important role as endemic resident herbivores as their largely vegetarian feeding habits are responsible for the dispersal of several plants. The Galapagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) lives on several islands, making it the most widely distributed land iguana of the three terrestrial species of the Galapagos.

Marine Iguana

The marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) is one of the most amazing Galapagos species. For starters, they are found on all Galapagos Islands, but nowhere else. They arrived as terrestrial iguanas, later evolving into marine animals and then spreading throughout the archipelago. They spend most of their live near the waterline thermoregulating, and feed at low tide.

Santa Fe Land Iguana

Island Exclusive Species: occurs only on Santa Fe Island The Santa Fe land iguana (Conolophus pallidus), with smaller dorsal spines and a paler colour and tapered snout, lives only on little Santa Fe. Perfectly adapted by its colour to blend in with its surroundings, it is somewhat more difficult to observe than the other land iguana.

Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) are in several ways unique among the world species of penguins. They are the only ones that live on the equator, moult twice a year, and have no fixed breeding season. It is one of the smallest penguins, and the only ones with a permanent population north of the equator.

Galapagos Sea Lion

Genetic research shows that the Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeckii) is a separate and much smaller species from its ancestor, the California sea lion. In length, they range from 150 to 250 centimetres (59 to 98 inches). Males are much larger than females, weighing as much as 360 kilogrammes (800 pounds).

Galapagos Fur Seal

The Galapagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) is the smallest of all seals, with females weighing just around 30 kilogrammes (66 pounds) and males around 80kg (176lb). Originally from the south Pacific, they have radically different breeding and foraging strategies as their cousins from the north. They hold the record as the world´s smallest pinniped.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

The Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living tortoise species. Weighing up to 250kg (550 pounds). They play an important biological role as their habitats’ top grazer. In the wild, these gentle giants slowly barrel their way through the plant cover. The shape of their carapaces varies from island to island.

Source: Metropolitan Touring


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