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  • Writer's pictureEryn

The Cold-Blooded Creatures of the Galápagos Islands

A Santa Fe land iguana's right hind leg rests on my neon yellow shoes as its long tail trails behind it
An unexpected interaction as a land iguana endemic to Santa Fe Island climbs over my feet to reach some nearby food!

The cold-blooded reptiles of the Galápagos Islands are rather unique for most of them are found solely on the archipelago and nowhere else on Earth. While they may appear peculiar and alien to us, they and their impact on the Galápagos are fascinating.

One of the reptiles' impacts is on the motionless cacti that are scattered across the Galápagos Islands. Though it may not seem obvious, you can actually tell if an island is inhabited by the cold-blooded creatures by studying the plants. If they are armed with needle-sharp spikes and smooth, slippery skin, this unattractiveness is to fend off its reptilian predators who will be unable to climb and reach their juicy leaves as a result. If the spikes are merely as soft as hair and their skin is rough and tough, however, then they are expressing their safety.

The details of a cactus leaf

A reptile that preys on the cacti of the Galápagos Islands is the land iguana, and this cold-blooded creature has quite a strange method of hunting. Day after day, with that mysterious "smile" spread across their faces, they lay by the tall cactus trees, awaiting a cactus leaf to fall to the ground. Giant tortoises, who are perhaps the most well-known reptiles of the Galápagos, similarly eat cactus leaves as well, and they nearly ate the cacti to extinction!

A giant tortoise looks up at the camera as it munches on some grass

Not only are there iguanas on land, however, there are also those in the ocean! A marine iguana's diet is purely algae, and that makes them amazing swimmers in the weirdest way! This is when their long tails come in handy, and their legs are no longer useful. Very much like a snake, they slither quietly through the water and dive down to reach the algae in the deep. Due to the chilly waters surrounding the Galápagos Islands, the cold blood of marine iguanas often becomes even colder after a swim, so they can often be seen soaking up the sun on land to bring their body temperatures back up.

A marine iguana sits still in a pool of water that mirrors its reflection
A marine iguana as it comes out of the icy water to bask in the sun

Having had to adapt to the unique environment of the Galápagos, these reptiles are all endemic to the islands and are found nowhere else on Earth. Luckily, they are kept safely within this Ecuadorian national park, and perhaps because of the protection, such special creatures are still alive for us to enjoy today.


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