Galápagos Reptiles

June 25 - 29, 2010

Trip OverviewBirds • Reptiles • Sea LifeEl Trapiche

Green sea turtle

On our first excursion of the trip, visited this mangrove swamp. We saw pelicans diving into the water for lunch, and under the waves were colorful fish, golden rays, and an elusive shark. Then we pushed through the branches and found these turtles in quiet pools among the mangroves.

Green sea turtle

After lunch, we went ashore on the red sand beach of Rábida. That's where I snapped this little lava lizard. We continued to see them throughout the trip.

Lava lizard

Marine iguanas were often hard to spot because their coloring matched the volcanic rocks. But we found them along the shores of every island, basking in sun, sometimes alone, sometimes in little colonies.

Marine iguana

Marine iguanas are very unique. As cold-blooded reptiles, they need the warmth of the sun to get them going. Then they dive into the cold water to eat seaweed off the underwater rocks.

Catcho and I spotted one while snorkeling on Genovesa. With waves pounding against the rocks, ours swam right to the shore and climbed out of the water right in front of me. They look lazy most of time just lying in the sun, but they really move when they want to!

Marine iguana

Land iguanas are rare. We saw these at the Darwin Research Station at Puerto Ayora. They had nearly gone extinct, and are being reintroduced to the wild.

Catcho told us that dogs kill iguanas, so the authorities on Galápagos are very strict about pet dogs. If the find a dog wandering on the streets alone, they kill the dog. They're supposed to call the owner first, but Catcho lost two dogs without a call when he was a kid.

Land iguana
Land iguana

The star attraction at the Darwin Research Station is Lonesome George. He is the last Pinta Island tortoise, and has been named the rarest creature in the world.

Early European visitors to the islands had introduced goats so that they would have meat when they returned. On Pinta, those goats had eaten so much of the vegetation that the tortoises died out. In recent years, hunts have been conducted to eliminate the goats and other alien species on several islands.

Lonesome George

That's George in the foreground, and one of his two female companions behind him. The females are another subspecies, and so far their eggs have not been viable.

Despite George's fame, Catcho's hero is an Espanola tortoise named Diego. Espanola tortoises had also been wiped out by goats, but one male had lived in the San Diego zoo since the 1930's. He was moved back to Galápagos to join the last 12 females, and they have produced over 2000 offspring.

We looked for Diego on our visit, but he seemed to be hiding.

To the left is a wild tortoise at the Primicia farm on Santa Cruz. The farm has rare fresh water pools that the tortoises really like. When it's not breeding season, the tortoises come to wade in the fresh water.

If you get too close to a wild tortoise, it makes a fairly loud huffing noise. That's because a tortoise has to exhale in order to retract its head into the shell.

That's me in the photo below, talking to a tame tortoise in the research station. They have several big ones that had been pets. You can go into the pen and visit with them, but you're not supposed to touch.

Ray and giant tortoise

Below is one of many baby tortoises in the pens at Darwin Station. Each is the size of the full grown box turtle I had as a kid, but eventually these will grow into giants.

Each pen is now surrounded by bars because a man was recently caught at the airport trying to smuggle two of these babies out of the country. Christina gave me a magnet that's now on my refrigerator. It says, "The more people I meet, the more I like my cat." I like tortoises, too.

Baby tortoise