A complete guide to the most important animals in the Galapagos Islands

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A complete guide

Animals in the Galapagos Islands

We bring you the most important animals in the Galapagos Islands.
Birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, coastal or marine life, we cover them all.
Well, at least the ones you will want to see and meet:

We bring you the most important animals in the Galapagos Islands.

Birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, coastal or marine life, we cover them all.

Well, at least the ones you will want to see and meet:

The iconic, endemic, endangered, sometimes oddly-looking creatures that roam the islands, fly through the skies and inhabit the Pacific Ocean around.

A big sorry goes out to all the animals that are definitely living in, above and around the Galapagos Islands but that did not make our list. Like…

The Galapagos Shearwater, the Brown Pelican, all Gulls, Egrets and Herons, Falcons, Owls and Doves.

Also iguanas, snakes, rodents and lizards go unnoticed. Please, sharks, rays and eels, don’t take it personally!

Heavy-bodied fish, silvery fish, parrotfish, hogfish and wrasses, box- and triggerfish, let’s remain friends.

Por favor!!!

Long, thin, disc-shaped, oval and odd-shaped bottom-dwellers, you know we love you.

The thing is that the Galapagos Islands are so ridiculously diverse and unique when it comes to animal wildlife, that they can only be fully covered in a scientific publication.

Anyway, here we go…

- Birds -

As of 2019, a total of 185 bird species have been documented, 31 of which are endemic and therefore can only be found in Galapagos.

Land birds

Galapagos Hawk 

Buteo galapagoensis

♦ Endemic, both a predator and a scavenger

They feed on basically anything: Young iguanas, birds, lizards, rats, locusts.

It nests on all islands besides Genovesa, San Cristobal and Floreana. 

Galapagos Flycatcher 

Myiarchus magnirostris

♦ Endemic

Feeds on flying insects and larvae.

Found on all islands, besides Genovesa.

The Finches 

Geospiza … 

14 different species of them. All found on different islands.

The finches here were the starting point for Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Mostly because of their distinctly formed beaks and their eating habits, he concluded that they evolved from a single species into more than a dozen, adapting to the surroundings of their specific islands. 

Mockingbirds 

Mimus …

♦ 4 species. All endemic

Named after and living on their distinctive islands: Floreana, Española, San Cristobal.

Only the so-called Galapagos Mockingbird and its subspecies are found on several islands. 

Coastal birds

Great Blue Heron 

Ardea herodias

The largest heron in the islands.

Like many of the animals in the Galapagos Islands they feed on small fish, crabs, lizards, or young iguanas.

Best viewed at beaches and lagoons of all bigger islands.

Cattle Egret 

Bubulcus ibis

Probably the most recent natural arrival in the Galapagos.

This egret was only observed in 1964.

Feeds on locusts and grasshoppers.

Mostly seen in agricultural areas of the 4 inhabited islands. 

Lava Heron 

Butorides sundevalli

♦ Endemic

Feeds on small fish and crabs.

Seen on all islands. 

Sea birds

Galapagos Penguin 

Spheniscus mendiculus

♦ Endemic and one of the smallest penguins in the world

There are only about 2000 individuals left, mostly found on Fernandina Island and the west and north of Isabela Island.

Due to heavy El Niño events, the population was drastically reduced in the past.

Waved Albatross 

Phoebastria irrorata

♦ Endemic, the largest bird in the islands with a wingspan of up to 2.35 m

That also makes him one of the largest in the world.

It is only found on Española Island and just a few pairs on Isla La Plata, off the coast of Ecuador’s mainland.

Also, they can only be seen during the breeding season which depends on the nutrient-rich water currents beginning March/April and leaving the island around December.

Blue-footed Booby 

Sula nebouxii excisa

♦ An endemic subspecies only found here
One of the most iconic animals in Galapagos!

They breed on the islands south of the equator.

Other boobies are the Nazca booby, the brown booby and the red-footed booby.

Flightless Cormorant 

Nannopterum harrisi

♦ Endemic, a great diver

Its status is vulnerable, and it can only be found on Fernandina and a few parts of Isabela Island.

- Reptiles -

This is one significant feature of the Galapagos Islands: Reptiles are the predominant species on land, whereas in the rest of the world, mammals say what’s up.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise 

Geochelone spp.

♦ Endemic. There are currently 11 giant tortoise species living on the islands. 

One of the top 5 emblematic animals in the Gapapagos Islands.

3 are already extinct. Tortoises are land-based animals, while turtles spend at least parts of their life in the water. Most travellers will only see the tortoises on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and the species around Alcedo volcano in their natural habitat, while others can be seen in one of the breeding centres. 

Easiest to be distinguished from the shape of their plates, around 20,000 individuals roam the islands. The most iconic animal of the Galapagos is known for its long lifetime, up to and maybe more than 150 years.

Galapagos Green Turtle 

Chelonia mydas agassizii

♦ Maybe an endemic subspecies

The only turtle that breeds on the islands.

The female comes ashore on sandy beaches at night and buries the eggs.

The young also usually emerge at night to make it to the safe ocean to avoid predators. 

Marine Iguana 

Amblyrhynchus cristatus

♦ Endemic. 7 subspecies.

The marine iguanas are the only known sea-going lizards in the world.

One of the most emblematic of the animals in the Galapagos Islands.

It feeds on algae, even in the cold waters of the Humboldt current and since it’s ectothermic, then heats up on rocks in the sun.

During strong El Niño events with less food, the population declines significantly. 

Land Iguana 

Conolophus cristatus

♦ Endemic, up to 1m in length and 13 kilos heavy

They feed mostly on Opuntia cactus and are best observed on Santa Cruz, South Plaza and Seymour.

Pink Iguana 

Conolophus marthae

♦ Endemic

Only described in 2009, pink iguanas are the rarest endemic species living around Wolf volcano on Isabela Island.

With only 100 individuals, there is little information about these animals so far. 

But, pretty sure, more to come!

Lava Lizard

Microlophus ssp.

7 species of lava lizards live in the Galapagos.

They can be seen on most islands in the lowlands, except Genovesa.

Galapagos Leaf-toed Gecko 

Phyllodactylus galapagoensis

♦ Endemic, tiny and nocturnal

They are often found in houses on the walls during the night.

But don’t be alarmed, they are harmless and watch over your sleep. 

Hood Racer Snake 

Philodryas hoodensis

♦ An endemic, slender constrictor snake

Up to 85cm long and only found on Española Island.

Striped Galapagos Snake 

Alsophis steindachneri

♦ Endemic and up to 60cm long

Only found on Baltra, Rabida, Santa Cruz and Santiago Islands.

- Marine Mammals -

Due to the isolated location of the Galapagos Islands, marine mammals are more common than those on land. Residents of the archipelago are 2 species each of sea lions, dolphins and whales.

Galapagos Sea Lion 

Zalophus wollebaeki

♦ Endemic and the largest animal found on the islands

These sea lions can weigh up to 250 kg.

Found at the coast all around Galapagos.

Galapagos Fur Seal 

Arctocephalus galapagoensis

♦ Endemic

Found on rocky coasts in Seymour, Genovesa and Santiago Islands.

Whales and dolphins 

Balaenoptera, Megaptera, Physeter, Orca, Tursiops, Delphinus, Grampus.

There are many different types of whales that roam the waters around the Galapagos from time to time.

Baleen whales like the Humpback, Minke or Blue whale, or toothed whales like the sperm whale or the orca.

Different species of dolphins are seen occasionally as well.

- Land mammals -

Due to its isolated location far from the mainland, the Galapagos archipelago is home to just six mammal species.

Galapagos bats 

Lasiurus brachyotis

♦ Endemic 

Besides several rodents, the Galapagos bat is an endemic species living here.

Best to be observed right in the settlements of Puerto Ayora and Baquerizo Moreno.

- Underwater wildlife -

The Galapagos Marine Reserve is home to nearly 3,000 marine species, and is one of the largest and most biologically diverse marine protected areas in the world.

Sharks

Whale Shark 

Rhincodon typus

With up to 14 meters the worlds biggest shark!

Not much is known about this peaceful giant, but our friends from Galapagos Shark Diving are trying to change that. 

They usually migrate between Costa Rica’s Cocos Island and the Galapagos Islands of Darwin and Wolf.

White-tipped Reef Shark and Blacktip Shark 

Triaenodon trubesus, Carcharhinus limbatus

Up to 2.5 meters.

Widespread across the islands. 

Scalloped Hammerhead 

Sphyrna lewini

An unmistakable shark, with the eyes on the sides of a flattened head. 

Usually seen around Wolf and Darwin.

Feeds on fish and squid.

Rays and eels

Giant manta ray 

Manta hamiltoni

Huge, up to 7 meters, black above, white below.

Feeds on plankton and crustaceans.

Makes spectacular aerial leaps, and is by itself just SPECTACULAR!

Spotted Eagle Ray 

Aetobatus narinari

Black with white spots on top, large, up to 2.5m.

All around the islands, usually in schools.

Diamond Stingray 

Dasyatis brevis

Thick, up to 2m, in color olive-brown to grey.

Usually found on sandy bottoms throughout the islands.

Molluscs and crustaceans are his favorites when it comes to food.

Galapagos Garden Eel 

Heteroconger klausewitzi

Small, 25 centimeters long, lives in burrows in sand, stretching out to feed on passing plankton.

Usually lives in colonies that look like a meadow in the southern and central islands.

Fine Spotted Moray 

Gymnothorax dovii

A long (1.7m) and angry looking one.

Hides in holes and crevices, waiting for octopus, crustaceans and fish. 

Long, thin and odd-shaped fish

Mola Mola (or Ocean Sunfish) 

Mola mola

Unmistakable, 3m long and pretty round.

Usually seen around western islands, but comes to more shallow waters to get cleaned by smaller fish.

A real bucket list fish!

Pacific Seahorse 

Hippocampus ingens

30cm tall, with a horse-like head, and definitely cute.

Holds on coral, rocks and seaweeds with its tail.

Comes in many colors and it’s everywhere to find in the waters.

- Invertebrates, insects -

... and other notable (because endemic) animals

Galapagos Blue Butterfly 

Leptodes parrhasidoides 

♦ Endemic
Small, up to 2.5cm, mostly viewed in arid zones on main islands after rain.

Large-tailed skipper 

Urbanus dorantes galapagensis

♦ Endemic

Like many other animals in the Galapagos islands found everywhere and at all altitudes.

Indefatigable Hawkmoth 

Manduca rustica galapagensis

Well, a moth.

Around 9 cm tall.

Seen only on Santa Cruz Island.

Galapagos Carpenter Ant 

Camponotus macilentus

There’s 24 species of ants that are present in the Galapagos and virtually no scientific work has been done on endemic and local species.

Galapagos Green-eyed Horsefly 

Tabanus vittiger

Largest fly in the islands.

Well, it’s a fly.

You will feel it before you hear it.

Galapagos Carpenter Bee 

Xylocopa darwini

The only bee found in the Galapagos.

Widespread in the southern islands.

Spotless Ladybug 

Cycloneda Sanguinea

♦ Endemic

And a ladybug without any spots. 

Galapagos Field Cricket 

Gryllus abditus

♦ Endemic

Large, up to 5 cm.

8 species. All are winged, although only 2 can fly.

Seen on most islands.

Zig-zag spider 

Neoscona cooksoni

♦ Endemic

A web-building spider.

Usually waits for victims in the middle.

Found in arid areas of all islands.

And no, don’t worry, it is not venomous. 

Galapagos Centipede 

Scolopendra galapagoensis

♦ Endemic up to 30cm long 

Found in arid areas.

It preys on other invertebrates and even small birds.

It’s the favourite food of the Galapagos hawk.

The biggest of at least 8 species of Centipedes found here. 

Galapagos Hermit Crab 

Calcinus Explorator

♦ Endemic

A dark brown to black crab.

Widely seen on rocks in the intertidal zone. 

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