Encyclopedia of Islands

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Animals in Galapagos

Rare tool-user: A woodpecker finch (right) works a twig to pry a grub out of a tree branch. Of the 13 species of Galápagos finches, only the woodpecker and mangrove finches use tools. Gaudy showoff, a male frigatebird (below) attracts a mate by inflating a bright guiar sac. Researcher Felipe Cruz (opposite) retrieves a dark-rumped petrel to check its banding, size, and weight. The bird´s habit of nesting in burrows easily entered by pigs and rats now threatens the survival of this species.

Animals in Galapagos

Golden rays (right) glide information near Roca Redonda, an offshore rock northwest of Isla Isabela. With undulating motion, the winglike fins propel the rays through the water, sometimes at great speeds. When threatened, they lash their enemy with their whiplike tails. A sea lion (above) surfs in roiling breakers. These creatures, the largest mammals in the Galápagos, seem always to be playing, whether with one another, marine iguanas, crabs, or just a piece of seaweed. Their antics have given them the reputation of being carefree clowns of the seas. All waters extending as far as 15 miles off the outer coasts of the Galápagos Islands lie within the Marine Resource Reserve; a plan currently under study by scientists and government officials would place part of the reserve within the Galápagos Islands National Park. Snorkelers and scuba divers tout the local waters as among the best for viewing an unusual diversity of fishes and sea plants.

On the seafloor, a marine iguana clutches an algae-covered boulder. An English navigator called these nightmarish but harmless creatures "imps of darkness." The animal usually stays underwater for about ten minutes, but it can slow its heartbeat and settle in for as long as an hour. It eats algae, its blunt nose enabling it to crop the close- growing plants from the rocks. When mature, these reptiles—the only seagoing lizards in the world—average about three feet from snout to tail tip and weigh about five pounds. In breeding season, this dragon look-alike will try to intimidate his rivals by displaying the knobby spines and horns on his head. Found on most of the Galápagos Islands, marine iguanas often congregate in writhing piles to conserve body heat overnight. During the day they sun near the surf, sometimes as many as 5,000 sprawling along a mile of coast.