15 Animals You’ll Only Find in the Galápagos

The biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands is abundant. Many endemic animal, plant, and insect species that are unique to these islands cannot be found anywhere else in the globe because of their distant location.

Given the extreme rarity of much of this flora and animals, conservation is essential to averting extinction events. In 1959, the Ecuadorian government designated 97% of the Galápagos archipelago as a national park in order to preserve this exceptional ecology. To safeguard the islands, they passed a legislation known as the Special Law of the Galápagos in 1998. The Galápagos Marine Reserve was also established by them.

Among the many endemic species found in the Galápagos are more than 1,200 terrestrial invertebrates, twenty reptiles, five mammals, six seabirds, 22 land birds, two marine animals, and 250 vascular plants.

Let’s examine 15 of these distinctive Galápagos creatures.

15. Shearwater (Galápagos)

The shearwater, or Puffinus subalaris, is an indigenous breeder to the Galápagos Islands, though it has been seen to migrate as far south as the Pacific coast of southern Mexico. The Christmas shearwater and the Galapagos shearwater are the two tiny species that are most closely related. These gregarious birds happily eat fish and squid with other shearwaters and several species of booby.

14. Lava Gull

The lava gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus) is thought to be the rarest gull in the world, with a population of only 300–600 individuals. The lava gull is endemic to the Galápagos, mostly on the islands of Santa Cruz, Genovesa, Isabela, and San Cristobal. It is closely related to the more common laughing gull. Lava gulls can live up to 49 years, making them extremely long-lived birds.

13. Galápagos Hawk

The red-tailed hawk and the Galápagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) are closely related. With about 150 mating pairs worldwide, the Galápagos hawk is one of the rarest raptor species, in contrast to the common red-tailed. Even though they are so big, these hawks mostly eat invertebrates like huge centipedes and locusts, but they sometimes occasionally consume carrion, tiny birds, lava lizards, baby iguanas, and rodents. One distinctive feature of Galápagos hawks is their cooperative polyandry. During the nesting season, the females mate with multiple men, whilst the males are monogamous. After that, the males assist with egg incubation and chick rearing.

12. Waved Albatross

The largest bird in the Galápagos is the striking waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorate). These birds can soar through the skies thanks to their remarkable 7-8 foot wingspan and weight of six to over eight pounds. The albatross is an amazing bird that can sail over the ocean for years without setting foot on land, returning only to reproduce. The waved albatross is considered highly endangered, with long-line fishing and other man-made dangers being the main risks.

11. Lava Lizard

All of the Galápagos Islands’ seven lava lizard species can be found there, with the exception of Wolf, Darwin, and Genovesa. These little lizards, which belong to the genus Microlophus, are colourful and resemble tiny iguanas. Males are often more intelligent than females, and they frequently engage in “push-up contests” as a way to intimidate other males and mark their territory.

10. Galápagos Penguin

Seeking a penguin that lives north of the equator? There is just one type of penguin, the Galapagos (Spheniscus mendiculus). Weighing in at around four to five pounds, they are the third smallest species of penguins worldwide. Although they can lay up to two eggs at a time and are monogamous, the parents will only rear one of the hatched eggs. The average lifespan of chicks that make it to adulthood is about 20 years.

9. Darwin’s Finches

The genesis of Darwin’s theory of evolution is sometimes credited to the 17 species of finches found on the Galápagos Islands. The finches separated into distinct species after they first landed on the islands in order to adapt to their unique surroundings. Most notably, the rare species acquired distinct beak types suited to various food kinds. This enables the birds to occupy particular ecological niches on the islands; some consume cacti, while others consume hard seeds or crustaceans. Despite having similar sizes and colours, finches can be distinguished from one another by their habitats, beaks, and meals.

8. Marine Iguana

It is quite a sight to see the vast groups of marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) swarming the rocky coasts of the islands. Being the only seagoing lizards in the world, they are skilled swimmers but not very agile on land. They soak up the heat they require for energy from the sun when they aren’t feeding on submerged algae. There are eleven distinct subspecies spread throughout the islands, five of which were only discovered in 2017. There are around 250,000 marine iguanas on the islands; their numbers vary according to the island on which they reside. They appear to be everywhere.

7. Flightless Cormorant

Even though just one of the 29 cormorant species is flightless, they more than make up for it with their exceptional swimming abilities. For these birds, flight was less required due to the absence of terrestrial predators, and as a result, evolution favoured stronger swimmers over better flyers since swimmers were more adept at capturing prey like octopuses and eels. These birds’ wings eventually grew to be one-third the size required to support flight. The flightless cormorants utilise their wings to help them balance when they leap from rock to rock, so they are not completely useless.

6. Galápagos Sea Lion

Sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki), the most prevalent mammal in the Galápagos, can be heard, smelled, and seen practically all the way along the island’s shores. Males can weigh up to four times as much as females, making them substantially larger. The males loudly declare their supremacy with barking cries as they patrol the seas near the beaches where the females reside. Males who are more dominant tend to have larger harems and territory. The bachelor colonies are separated from the females by males without harems. Sea lions are smooth swimmers who search for food underwater while on the lookout for sharks, despite their ungainly gait on land.

5. Swallow-Tailed Gull

The world is home to more than fifty species of gulls, but only one is truly common: the swallow-tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus). The swallow-tailed gull is the only nocturnal gull in the world because it hunts at night. Its eyes are the biggest of any gull species, and it is the only one with night vision. The gulls can avoid competition from other seabird species, including frigate birds, who frequently take food from gulls, by hunting at night. Since squid are most active after dark, it also increases their access to squid, which is one of their favourite foods.

4. Banded Galápagos Snake

The banded Galápagos snake (Pseudalsophis slevini), also referred to as the Pinzón racer, is the only snake that can be found on Pinzón Island. One of the four native “racers” species in the Galápagos, the banded snake is small, brown, and around the size of a garter snake. The only two snakes in the Galápagos having a banded pattern are the Darwin’s racer and the banded snake. Although they have a slight venom, banded Galápagos snakes do not pose a threat to humans.

3. Galápagos Fur Seal

The fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis), which is much smaller than the Galápagos sea lion, is usually found near the rocky shorelines of the western islands during the day and prefers to hunt at night. These nocturnal eaters frequently travel up to 16 hours in search of food. Because the full moon makes them more conspicuous to predators like sharks, they frequently hunt less during that time. Fur seals may dive up to 160 feet in search of food, primarily consisting of fish and cephalopods like squid.

2. Land Iguana

The Galápagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus) is the largest of the three native iguana species found in the islands. These giant lizards, which may grow to a length of 5 feet, are among the largest species found on the Galápagos Islands and are among the largest iguanas in the world. The yellow colouring of these iguanas makes them even more unique. The prickly-pear cactus provides over 80% of the food of land iguanas, which are primarily herbivorous. The cactus provides the iguana with the majority of its fluids, which allows it to survive in the desert regions of the islands where there aren’t many water sources.

1. Galápagos Tortoise

Named after the islands, the Galápagos tortoise is one of the most famous of the indigenous species found in the archipelago. The Spanish term “galapago,” which meaning “saddle,” is the source of the name “Galápagos.” This term was employed by early explorers to characterise the tortoise’s shell form.

There are currently between 10,000 and 15,000 Galápagos tortoises remaining on the island, belonging to 15 different species. The most well-known of them, Lonesome George, passed away in 2012 and was the last tortoise on Pinta Island.

Highlights of 15 Animals You’ll Only Find in the Galápagos

Animal Scientific Name
Galápagos Tortoise Chelonoidis niger
Land Iguana Conolophus subcristatus
Galápagos Fur Seal Arctocephalus galapagoensis
Banded Galápagos Snake Pseudalsophis slevini
Swallow-Tailed Gull Creagrus furcatus
Galápagos Sea Lion Zalophus wollebaeki
Flightless Cormorant Phalacrocorax harrisi
Marine Iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus
Darwin’s Finches Geospiza genus
Galápagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus
Lava Lizard Microlophus genus
Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorate
Galápagos Hawk Buteo galapagoensis
Lava Gull Leucophaeus fuliginosus
Galápagos Shearwater Puffinus subalaris