Walking with Marine Iguanas in the Galapagos

One of my favorite animals to see around the Galapagos was the marine iguana, an endemic species only found in the archipelago. These amazing reptiles were found around most of the islands, but there were far more on Isla Fernandina at Punta Espinosa, which we visited on the third day of the Lindblad Expedition. This was the first close encounter with these amazing creatures.

galapagos marine iguana
One of the first marine iguanas I saw next to some mangroves

As we were in the Galapagos during mating/hatching season, it was necessary to be a little more careful walking around. Upon arrival and seeing the mess of marine iguanas (yes, “mess” is the collective modifier for a group of iguanas), our naturalists searched for a path around them without disturbing the nesting grounds or accidentally stepping on marine iguanas that so easily blend with the rocky landscape.

galapagos marine iguanas
The heron in the background is looking for a snack

These reptiles are beautiful to those who appreciate the lizard life, or to those who like the newer iteration of Godzilla as they were the model for the destroyer of Tokyo. Yes, they really do look like baby Godzilla, stomping on miniature cities and causing havoc.

galapagos marine iguanas
This one definitely looks ready to stomp on a model of Tokyo
galapagos marine iguanas

The marine iguanas are smaller than the land iguanas in the Galapagos, but they have longer tails to propel them through the water. They have a shorter face with a hard shield on the top of their head for protection along with long claws to hold onto rocks in currents and sharper teeth than their land cousins. I was unable to watch them eating algae and seaweed as I couldn’t see anything without prescription goggles when snorkeling, so I missed out on that sight.

fernandina galapagos

When I first saw the mess of marine iguanas on Isla Fernandina, I crouched down to admire how cool they looked and take a few pictures. Then the one nearest me sneezed. It’s not really a sneeze, but seems that way — the marine iguanas expel the salt they ingest while swimming, and it come out like wet snot. It’s the only sound I heard from these creatures.As we stood at the start of our slow hike admiring the reptiles resting on the rocks, a heron in the back surveyed the mess. I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch it as the heron picked up a baby marine iguana for breakfast.

heron marine iguanas
The heron is the culprit for eating a baby marine iguana

Many of the lizards were splooting on the rocks — the water can be cold and spreading out on the lava rocks helps heat their bodies.

monday iguana
This marine iguana is my spirit animal, especially pre-coffee

As we wandered past the mess of marine iguanas, we encountered more Galapagos wildlife and endemic fauna. As always, there were plenty of sea lions lounging on the beaches — I never tired of seeing them, particularly the pups.

galapagos sea lions
A few sea lions lounging on the beach

Off in the distance (my lack of a good zoom lens made it difficult to get a picture), we saw a flightless cormorant perched on the shore — usually I saw them in the water when all that’s visible is the head and neck. It’s a small bird that evolved to have smaller wings as it had no predators to fly away from, so now it’s little wings are more or less useless as it swims around the archipelago in search of fish to consume.

galapagos flightless cormorant
Flightless cormorant on the shore

Among the fauna that stood out were the lava cactus, which I didn’t encounter on other stops around the Galapagos (though I don’t know if it is prevalent elsewhere). It’s a thick finger cactus that pops out of the lava in bunches — you can see that the lava rock where it grows is newer than in other parts of the archipelago. It was interesting to see this cactus growing in the middle of lava rock. The giant prickly pear cactus that’s found throughout the archipelago is more photogenic, but it was nice to see some variety along the way.

lava cactus
The lava cactus with a landscape view
punta espinosa galapagos

There were also plenty of smaller lava lizards that are prevalent throughout the Galapagos. More than a few of them climbed onto the marine iguanas that were resting and absorbing some heat.Toward the end of our walk through the land of marine iguanas, we came upon a racer snake hiding in some brush. I hung back as I don’t like snakes at all, but I could see the small, thin endemic snake. As our naturalists noted, the racer snakes only come out during hatching season as they feed on the newly born marine iguanas — the lizards emerge from the sandy nests and run for the camouflage of the lava rocks. During this run for life is the racer snakes best time for a meal if they can catch the quick prey. The adults have fewer worries about predators.

lava lizard
A lava lizard and driftwood near the shore

There were also some iguana bones on the lava rocks. These were staged for the tour groups — there were similar staged bones at other stops throughout the week as it provided an opportunity for the naturalists to explain more about the animals’ life cycles.

iguana bones
This poor marine iguana became an educational display

There were plenty of opportunities to ask questions about the natural beauty we encountered on the 1.5-mile hike that took about three hours. I was grateful for the Lindblad naturalists as they are knowledgeable and fun — and sometimes they were surprised by what we saw, like the racer snake.

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