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by on December 5, 2018

Galapagos Animals – 21 Famous Species in the Archipelago

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

The Galapagos Islands are amazing on 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 are beautiful.

Really, though, it’s animals that make the visit unforgettable.

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

Let’s go over some of the highlights of what awesome animals you can expect to see in the Galapagos.

Endemic Species

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 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

Galapagos animals marine 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.

They’re actually really amazing swimmers, and can hold their breath for a long time.

They’ll often dive for 30-40 minutes! Large males can reach depths of up to 100 feet (30m)!

If you want an example of something so ugly that it’s beautiful, 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!

2. Galapagos Land Iguana

Galapagos animals 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.

One cool fact about these guys: they eat cactus, spines and all. If that’s not hardcore, I don’t know what is.

3. Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos animals giant-tortoise
galapagos tortoise in the wild
This is one of the most famous animals of the Galapagos.

Actually, that’s how the Galapagos got its name. The Flemish cartographer Abraham Oretlius referred to this islands as “Insulae de los Galopegos”, or “Islands of the Tortoise”.

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 an age of 152 years.

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)!

Apparently, in the 16th century, there was over a quarter of a million of these slow moving giants. In the 70’s, that number dipped as low as 3,000. They’re now making a slow but steady recover with a lot of conservation help!

4. Darwin’s Finches

Galapagos - animals darwin-finches
Darwin finch in branch
These are famous for being the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution. What’s really interesting about these little birds is how the shape and function of their 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.

5. Flightless Cormorant

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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. 

Here’s an interesting fact about this unusual bird: 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

Galapagos animals waved-albatross
female albatross walking
Although it travels extremely long distances, the waved albatross breeds exclusively on the Galapagos Islands.

These magnificent birds are absolutely masters of the sky; they can spend years flying over the ocean without ever coming to land. It’s 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 breeding season, which runs from March to January. 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.

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 they to gain enough speed quickly to stay airborne.

7. Galapagos Fur Seal

Galapagos animals 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.

8. Galapagos Penguin

Galapagos animals -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. 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

Galapagos animals lava-heron
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 a bright orange.

These herons are lightning fast. 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.

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

10. Lava Lizards

Galapagos animals lava-heron
galapagos lava lizard in branch
Most of these little critters sport bright red chins, and their color can change based on their mood. 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 hilarious silent music video.

11. Galapagos Mockingbird

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 beak.

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.

12. Galapagos Hawk

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galapagos hawk landing in cactus
These hawks never migrate and can only be found in 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.

One thing that’s really interesting about 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.

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.

13. Large Painted Locust

Galapagos animals Large Painted Locust
locust in soil
This is one of the brightest and most colorful insect 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.

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!

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

Non-Endemic Species

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. Interestingly, their name originally came from the Spanish word “bobo”, which means “stupid”.

These birds walk in the strangest way, whistling and honking at tourist 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!

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.

They’re known to steal food from other birds in midair.

16. Whales and Dolphins

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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 and enormous range.

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

17. Sally Lightfoot Crab

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

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.

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, same as many people. Sea turtles have some really interesting biology. To get rid of excess salt in their bodies, they secrete concentrated salt water through their eyes. This makes it look like they’re crying when they’re on land.

19. Caribbean Flamingo

Galapagos - animals-caribbean-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. Mating and egg-laying season is during April and May, when you can see their synchronized dancing.

20. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Galapagos - animals-scalloped-hammerhead-shark
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.

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 weight 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.

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 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 a very intense conservation effort. They protect this very special flora and fauna 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!

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