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Birds with bright blue feet, 600 pound tortoises and iguanas that feed underwater are just a few of the creatures that call Galapagos home. Perhaps the most unique fact about the animals of the islands is their inherent lack of fear that allows for up close and intimate encounters. Sea lions pose for pictures and vie for your attention, iguanas lounge on the walkways soaking up the sun, and the many birds pay you little to no attention as they continue their activities as if you weren't even there. You will want to pet a sea lion no doubt, but for their safety and yours, a two meter distance rule is in effect. The approachability of the animals along with the fact that they aren't contained in cages or fences requires extra special attention on the part of visitors in maintaining the delicate balance between human and animal the islands are so desperately trying to achieve.
Below are just a few of the amazing animals of the islands.
Galapagos Sea Lion
It's been said that sea lions are the dogs of the Galapagos as they populate many of the sandy beachs and rocky shorelines and love to bark and bey. The Galapagos sea lion is endemic to the islands and its closest relative is the California sea lion. Their diet consist of fish and squid and males can weigh up to 250kg (550lbs)! Sea lions congregrate into colonies with one head male for a group of females or a bachelor colony of resting or retiring males. They are by far the most playful and curious of all the animals.
Interesting Fact: Pup sea lions are coralled in 'nurseries' until they are ready to take to the open waters.
Marine Iguanas feed on algae at low tide and can dive up to 20 meters (60 feet) and spend as much as 60 minutes underwater. They are descendants of a land iguana from the mainland of South America. Marine Iguanas can live 25-30 years and can grow to one meter in length. Apart from breeding season when the males take on a green and red coloration, iguanas are normally a sooty black color.
Interesting Fact: Marine Iguanas are the only sea going lizard in the world!
With the recent death of Lonesome George only ten out of the estimated 14 original species of tortoise remain alive today. Each large volcano on Isabella, 5 in total, is home to a species of tortoise and is separated by wide lava fields that tortoises cannot cross. Santiago, Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Pinzon, and Española Islands each have a species of tortoise. Lonesome George, found in 1971, is the last of his species from Pinta Island and currently lives at the Charles Darwin Research Station. Hunted to the point of extinction, the original tortoise species of Floreana, Fernandina, Santa Fe, and Pinta are completely gone. Present day, there are many breeding and repopulation efforts underway to support and strengthen the remaining species of tortoises.
Tortoises can live over 100 years but no one is exactly sure how long they can live as they outlive humans! They can weigh up to 300 kg (650lbs) and are vegetarians. Their diet consists of over 40 different plant species and they are the only animal in the islands that can eat the fruit of the Poison Apple Tree. Tortoises have two main shell shapes: saddle-back and dome-shaped. The shape of the shell, or carapaces, is thought to have evolved due to the specific environment and type of vegetation available. The raised front of a saddle-back shaped tortoise allows their long necks to reach higher for vegetation on the drier islands. The dome-shaped tortoises can push through the dense growth found in the more lush areas where food is found closer to the ground.
Interesting Fact: When tortoises are frightened, they retract into their shell. As air is expelled to make room for their head and legs, it makes a hissing sound.