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by on December 5, 2018

21 Famous Animals of the Galapagos – Galapagos Islands Animals Facts

The most common and sought out Galapagos animals you can expect to find in the Archipelago

The Galapagos Islands animals are astonishing on so many levels. The climate is remarkably comfortable for being so close to the equator. The islands themselves were formed by presently-active volcanoes that command respect and truly impress. The ocean and beaches, and the animals of the Galapagos are beautiful. Really, though, it’s Galapagos animals that make the destination unforgettable. Below, find a list of the top Galapagos creatures along with some fun Galapagos Islands animals facts.

The Galapagos Islands are home to loads of endemic animals and plants. That means that they’re not found anywhere else in the world. Beyond that, these isolated islands have been carefully protected. The Galapagos animals here are actually extremely comfortable around humans; they haven’t developed a fear of being hunted that animals in other areas have.

Now, let’s go over a list of some of the highlights of what awesome animals you can expect to see in the Galapagos.

Endemic Galapagos Island’s Animals Facts

These are really special because you’ll never see these animals anywhere else in the world. They also need a lot of protection. All it would take is a single large volcanic eruption and they’d be gone forever.

Here’s a fun Galapagos animals fact: there are a ton of reptiles in the Galapagos. What’s really outstanding, though, is that according to the Galapagos National Park, 86% of them are endemic!

Let’s see what you might get to get up close and personal with for your visit.

1. Marine Iguana

mMarine iguana
Galapagos marine iguana swimming
Regular iguanas climb in trees and eat leaves. Marine iguanas, however, have a totally different way of getting their food. When the tide is low, they’ll go out to sea and feast on algae and seaweed.

If you want an example of something so ugly that it’s beautiful of all the Galapagos wildlife, the marine iguana definitely takes the cake.

They’re usually black or dark grey, with crusty white sea salt coating on their heads. It’s a good thing that they’re so dark; when they come back from a dive, their body temperatures can dip as low as 50°F (10°C).

Their black, leathery skin absorbs heat from the sun much more quickly.

Even still, these unusual creatures will laboriously and slowly drag their cold bodies up on to the shore and collapse in the sun while they warm up. For these guys, getting a meal is exhausting!

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: These guys are amazing swimmers and can hold their breath for long periods. They’ll often dive for 30-40 minutes! Large males can reach depths of up to 100 feet (30m)!

2. Galapagos Land Iguana – Galapagos Animals

Yellow Land-iguana
Galapagos land iguana in rock formation
Not all iguanas in the Galapagos swim; some are vibrant and chunky lizards that prefer to stay on land.

There are three species of land iguana in the Galapagos. One is pink. And not just a subtle, “technically kind of pinkish” pink, but a “woah, that’s a weird color for an iguana” pink.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: They eat cactus, spines and all. If that’s not hardcore, I don’t know what is.

3. Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Giant tortoise
galapagos tortoise in the wild
This is one of the most famous animals only found on the Galapagos Islands.

Actually, that’s how the Galapagos got its name. A fun Galapagos islands animals fact derives from the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, who referred to these islands as “Insulae de los Galopegos”, or “Islands of the Tortoise”.

These are without question the world’s largest tortoises, the biggest on record is over 5 feet long (1.5 m) and 920 pounds (420 kg)!

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: Apparently, in the 16th century, there was over a quarter of a million of these slow-moving giants. In the ’70s, that number dipped as low as 3,000. They’re now making a slow but steady recovery with a lot of conservation help!  There are currently ten different species that live on six of the islands. These lethargic giants can easily carry a full-grown man and live for over 100 years. The oldest on record lived to the age of 152 years.

4. Darwin’s Finches

animals darwin-finches
Darwin finch in branch
These are famous for being the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution. A fun Galapagos Islands animal fact is how the shape and function of these little bird’s beaks are so well adapted to their individual food sources.

The largest of Darwin’s finches, the large ground finch, has a short and large beak that’s adapted for cracking nuts. Compare that to the small tree finch, who’s fast, sharp beak is well suited for snatching up small insects.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: The Vampire finch will peck at the body of boobies species in the Galapagos until they bleed, and then drink the blood!

5. Flightless Cormorant

Flightless-cormorant in the Galapagos
couple of flightless cormorants
This is yet another very peculiar bird. The flightless cormorant is unique in that it’s the only cormorant that has lost its ability to fly. Their wings are disproportionately small, about 1/3 of the size that would be required to fly, but their webbed feet and strong legs allow it to power through the water, diving to gobble up food like octopi, fish, and eels.

It’s also highly endangered. It’s estimated that there are only 1500 remaining.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: Their soft, fluffy feathers aren’t waterproof, which means that they need to dry out on the beach after every dive. This will give you a great opportunity to see them up close!

6. Waved Albatross – Animals of the Galapagos

Waved Albatross
female albatross walking
Although it travels extremely long distances, the waved albatross breeds only on the Galapagos Islands.

These magnificent birds are absolute masters of the sky; they can spend years flying over the ocean without ever coming to land. Its enormous 8-foot (2.5 m) wingspan allows it to soar and you’ll almost never see it flap its wings.

The only time you’ll ever see it on land is during the breeding season, which runs from March to January.

Due to the sheer size of their unusually long wings, they have a hard time taking off and landing. It’s not uncommon to see them crash into the ground since their wings are geared more towards high-speed flying. They’ll often take off by jumping off a large cliff. This will allow them to gain enough speed quickly to stay airborne.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: Their mating rituals are amazing to watch. They consist of a 20-minute dance that includes swaying and freezing, honking, bill clicking, whistling, bowing and bill circling. Their main breeding grounds are on Española Island.

 

7. Galapagos Fur Seal

Galapagos fur-seal
fur seal in sea shore
Since they feed at night and relax on the beach during the day, these adorably chunky mammals are nearly a guaranteed sight when you’re visiting the Galapagos. Their large eyes let them watch out for both sharks and food during deep dives. Even though they typically feed between 30-160 feet (10-50 m) below the ocean, they’re capable of going much deeper.

The Galapagos fur seal has the lowest breeding rate of all seals; mothers will have only one pup at a time. They were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century, but now they’re fully protected under Ecuadorian law.

If you want to see the adorable Galapagos fur seal pups, the best time to visit is during October.  These may be the champion in the cutest animals of the Galapagos contest.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fact: Pups are born with a smooth and silky skin to which fur develops around 6 months of age. This made them prime targets for hunters back in the 18th century.

8. Galapagos Penguin – Animals of the Galapagos

Galapagos penguins
sunbathing Galapagos penguins
The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin that lives in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s entirely endemic to the islands, and they’re able to survive because of the chilly waters of the Humboldt and Cromwell Currents.

Some visitors say that this is one of the most peculiar sights in the Galapagos; seeing a penguin waddling around on a warm sandy beach.

These are the second smallest species of penguin. You’ll most commonly see them on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: There are fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs of these penguins. Because they’re so small, they have many natural predators. There’s a lot of effort being put into preserving this remarkable little creature.

9. Lava Heron

lava-heron of the Galapagos
heron in beach
The lava heron is a very well-camouflaged bird that nest around the lava rock coastlines in the Galapagos. During breeding season their legs change color from a dark grey to bright orange.

They live throughout the Galapagos, and you can see them year-round.

Galapagos Islands Animals Facts: These herons are lightning-fast compared to other animals of the Galapagos. They stalk the shoreline and can catch crabs at a rate of 2-3 per minute, stabbing them with their sharp beaks. They’re very impressive little hunters.

10. Lava Lizards – Animals of the Galapagos

Galapagos lava Lizard
Galapagos lava lizard in branch
Most of these little critters sport bright red chins, and their color can change based on their mood.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: They’re also well known for their push-ups; male lava lizards will bob up and down to intimidate other males and impress females. Apparently it makes them look bigger to each other, but for us, it looks like a hilarious silent music video.

 

11. Galapagos Mockingbird

Galapagos Mocking Bird
mocking bird walking in the beach
Even though the finches were what got all the attention in the story of the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, it was actually the Galapagos mockingbird that contributed more to the development of this theory.

Darwin shot and collected hundreds of these little birds, and he noticed how the mockingbirds were all slightly different on each island. This was primarily noticeable with their size and shape of the beak.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: One thing that’s very interesting about these tiny birds is that marine iguanas have come to depend on them. Mockingbirds will shout out a very specific cry when they notice predators, like the Galapagos hawk. These hawks hunt both marine iguanas and mockingbirds. The marine iguanas learned to recognize this alarm and will run for cover when they hear it. A great example of mutualism between the animals of the Galapagos.

12. Galapagos Hawk

Galapagos animals -hawk
Galapagos hawk landing in cactus
These hawks never migrate and is an animal only found on the Galapagos Islands. As a top predator, they’re credited with being a major asset to the region, since they control fluctuating populations and maintain balance.

These top predators are also not afraid of humans, and actually very approachable. While you should never touch any animal in this highly protected zone, it’s really awesome to be able to admire them from so close.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: these hawks is that they can sometimes be seen hunting in packs of two or three. This helps them to be much more effecting when pursuing prey.

13. Large Painted Locust – Galapagos Animals

Galapagos animals Large Painted Locust
locust in soil
This is one of the brightest and most colorful insects in the Galapagos. They’re found on every island except for Española, and you’ll be able to see a lot of them after heavy rainfall.

The best time to see these guys is during the rainy season, which is from March to May.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: These locusts are excellent jumpers, able to quickly cover up to 10 feet (3 m). In other words, if you’re freaked out by bugs, maintain a healthy distance!

Non-Endemic animals of the Galapagos

Even though you might run into these animals in other regions, these guys are just really cool. Some of them seem completely out of place, and some of them blend in perfectly. They totally make a Galapagos visit unforgettable.

14. Blue-Footed Booby –

Galapagos animals blue-footed-boody
blue-footed booby in sunset
Another crowd favorite, this is what’s inspired the “I <3 Boobies” t-shirt rage.

These birds are both hilarious and beautiful. Their bright blue feet look totally unnatural. Their wide-open, round eyes have a permanent look of surprise.

These birds walk in the strangest way, whistling and honking at tourists while maintaining the most bewildered of expressions.

If you come between June and August, you’ll get to see the hilarious mating dance.

The male marches around the female, displaying his bright blue feet it the most dramatic way imaginable.

Since about half of all blue-footed boobies nest in the Galapagos, this is the perfect place to see them!

Galapagos Islands Animals Fact: Interestingly, their name originally came from the Spanish word “bobo”, which means “stupid“.

15. Magnificent Frigatebird

male frigate-bird in mangroves
The magnificent frigatebirds in the Galapagos are thought to be genetically distinct from other frigatebirds, and don’t mate with those from other areas.

It’s not hard to guess where they got their name from. During mating season, the males display a massive, bright red gular sac (the thin pouch on their throats).

They typically lay eggs between mid-December and early April. November is a great time to see their mating rituals.

They’re also amazing flyers. Their streamlined wings rarely flap, and they typically just use there dramatically forked tail to steer.

Galapagos Islands Animals Facts: They’re constantly harassing and stealing food from other birds, such as the tropicbird, all in midair!  If you visit Genovesa Island, you are bound to see these creatures harassing other animals of the Galapagos.

 

16. Galagos Whales and Dolphins

Galapagos - animals-whale-and-dolphin
marine life
The Galapagos is home to 24 different species of dolphins and whales. Some of them stay year-round, while others drop in on their migratory paths.

Whale and dolphin watching season is usually June to October and is best done by boat. It can be hard to predict what exactly you’ll see on one of these excursions since these mammals cover such an enormous range.  Of all the animals of the Galapagos, these creatures may be the most incredible to see as they breach the water. Especially the whale sharks with their massive mouths! Check out the Galapagos diving ships to see these!

Here’s a partial list of what you might see here:

  • Orca Whales
  • Humpback Whales
  • Blue Whales
  • Bottlenose Dolphins
  • Sperm Whales
  • Minke Whales
  • Bryde Whales
  • Common Dolphins

Galapagos Islands Animals Facts: Up to 98 ft in length and a recorded weight of 173 tonnes (190 short tons), the blue whale is the largest animal known to have ever existed.

17. Sally Lightfoot Crab – Animals of the Galapagos

Galapagos-animals-sally-lightfood-crab
Sally lightfoot crab in shore

These intensely red and blue crabs can be found throughout the Galapagos, as well as coastal South America and the Caribbean. They feast on all kinds of food along the shores, from ticks on marine iguanas to other crabs. Of all the animals of the Galapagos, these seem to be the only ones that are fearful of humans!

Galapagos Islands Animals Fact: The rumor is that these extremely brightly colored crabs are named after a famous Caribbean dancer. If it’s true, it’s probably because of their amazing agility; They jump from rock to rock, run quickly in four directions, and climb up vertical slopes with ease. They’re really amazing little animals.

18. Pacific Green Turtle

Galapagos - animals-green-turtle
green turtle swimming
In January, Pacific green turtles start to lay their eggs, and nesting happens through to March. They’re actually the only species of sea turtle to nest in the Galapagos. These gentle swimmers are commonly seen when snorkeling and boating.

They don’t become mature until they’re between 26 and 40 years old, the same as many people. Sea turtles have some really interesting biology.

Galapagos Islands Animals Fun Fact: These guys get rid of excess salt in their bodies by secreting concentrated saltwater through their eyes. This makes it look like they’re crying when they’re on land.

19. Caribbean Flamingo – Galapagos Animals

Galapagos Flamingo
Galapagos flamingo in shallow water
These flamingos have a deep red, pink or orange color and are the brightest of all flamingo species. They’re typically grouped together in giant flocks that number into the tens of thousands. The mating and the egg-laying season is during April and May when you can see their synchronized dancing.

Galapagos Islands Animals Facts: Flamingos breathe in air, meaning they have to hold their breath while feeding underwater. They can do this for several minutes at a time before coming up for a quick breath and starting the process over and over. It happens fast though, so you may not even realize that they have taken a breath!

20. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Hammerhead
hammerhead shark in open sea
These sharks live all around the world in areas with warm water. These things can grow up to 14 feet (4.3 m) long and weigh over 300 lbs (150 kg). They often travel in large schools that can number into the hundreds.

Scalloped hammerheads are highly protected. The practice of finning has caused the population to drop by 95% in the last 30 years. Even still, they can be an amazing sight if you get to see them traveling in large groups.

Galapagos Animals Islands Facts: The Hammerhead has the ability to catch some rays and develop a nice tan! They are one of the few animals who change color from the sun. This happens because Hammerheads are frequently cruising in shallow water or near the surface for long periods.

21. Whale Shark – Galapagos Animals

Whale Shark
whale shark in Galapagos sea
To me, this is one of the most amazing animals in the ocean.

They’re the largest fish on the planet – they can reach up to 46 feet (14 m) in length and weigh up to 12 tons!

Unlike other sharks that only use their tails to swim, whale sharks propel themselves forward by slowly moving their entire body side to side.

Galapagos Animals Islands Fact: They’re also very slow, only traveling at an average speed of 3 mph (5 kph). It’s honestly pretty uncommon to see one of these massive creatures in the open ocean, but if you ever do, you will never forget it!

Are you planning a trip to the Galapagos in a cruise or a land-based tour? The opportunity to get so close to unafraid Galapagos wildlife is unlike any other experience. Beyond the thrill of seeing amazing animals that only exist in one tiny archipelago in the middle of the ocean, funds spent on tourism here are put towards very intense conservation efforts. They protect the very special animals of the Galapagos from the dangers of volcanic eruption and invasive species, as well as promoting awareness of our responsibility towards our environment.

Is there any animal we left out that you were hoping to find? Do you want to make sure specific wildlife is found in your cruise or tour? Our trip advisors are here to help!

We have the fastest & most efficient service in the market! Our travel planning services are free, with no payment or commitment involved.

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About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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