Why Nature Lovers Must Explore Wildlife in the Galapagos Islands

wildlife in the galapagos islands

Attention all those who snoozed through science class: things are about to get MUCH more interesting. Introducing the Galapagos Islands!

Tucked off mainland Ecuador, this remote archipelago is a treasure trove of rare, unique flora and fauna. Ever heard of Charles Darwin? This place was his muse, and it’s A LOT more fascinating to see his inspo IRL than to read about it in a textbook.

But I promise, one visit to Galapagos National Park and you’ll be just as in awe. Now let’s see what it’s all about.

What Makes Galapagos’ Wildlife so Remarkable?

The Galapagos aren’t just any ol’ islands, so they aren’t home to just any ol’ animals. Remote in location and limited in resources, it’s historically been difficult for species (like humans!) to thrive here.

So how is it possible for this to be a wildlife haven? Evolution, baby! Most of the archipelago’s animals drifted ashore from mainland South America, forcing them to adapt to new conditions outside their natural habitat. And now, almost half of Galapagos’ wildlife can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

10 Most Popular Animals on Galapagos Islands 

Is your animal-loving heart already swelling just thinking about all the wildlife encounters you’ll have on the islands? Well, brace yourself: we’re about to dive into the Galapagos’ top 10 most popular animals. (And yes, tears of joy are encouraged.)

Galapagos Tortoises

Giant tortoises are basically synonymous with the Galapagos. The islands are known for these hard-shelled herbivores!

Over the past few millenniums, 13 different subspecies evolved from the islands’ original tortoise populations after landing ashore from continental South America. That transformative history is a prime example of what the Galapagos Islands’ animals are all about!

But the story doesn’t stop there. 19th-century whalers frequented the island on voyages, taking giant tortoises as food and leaving feral goats and pigs behind to hunt on later trips. Sadly, all of this disrupted the natural ecosystem, causing two tortoise subspecies to go extinct and another left critically endangered.

Luckily, you can still spot giant tortoises on some islands! Head to the Santa Cruz highlands during mating season (July to November) to glimpse them in the wild, or stop by the Charles Darwin Research Station or Galapagueras to visit protected ones.

Marine Iguanas

galapagos marine iguanas

The Galapagos is home to a scientific marvel: the marine iguana. This unique species is famous for being the only aquatic lizard in the world to munch on algae. It’s just another example of wildlife’s exceptional ability to adapt to life on the islands.

Since adult marine iguanas have no real predators, getting up close and personal with them is easy. They aren’t scared of humans! And you’ll find them all across the islands — just head to the coasts.

These unassuming critters, described by Darwin as “hideous-looking” and “sluggish,” are actually avid swimmers. Galapagos marine iguanas dive as deep as 15 feet to collect algae off rocks, then soak up some rays on the shore to support their digestion. Darwin’s team even discovered that these lizards can always find their way back to their original location when thrown into the water. (But we don’t recommend trying this out yourself!)

Galapagos Finches

Anyone who’s taken a biology class knows Darwin’s finches are an iconic piece of scientific history. They inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution!

By noticing each of the islands’ 13 finch species had unique beaks, he proposed that all stemmed from a common ancestor yet adapted to the living conditions of various islands.

You’ll find Darwin’s finches all over the archipelago. But can you spot all 13 kinds?

Galapagos Penguin

Did you know penguins can live in the Northern Hemisphere? Now you do! Say hello to the Galapagos penguin.

But don’t go stomping your happy feet about it yet — these flightless birds are an endangered species with under 2000 individuals left.

One abnormally warm winter (El Niño) in 1982 is responsible for nearly 77% of the population loss, with most dying from starvation. And much like tortoises, Galapagos penguins are threatened by newly introduced species like cats and dogs.

Still, you can find this endemic species around the Fernandina and Isabela islands or even swim with them at Bartolome’s Pinnacle Rock!

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue Footed Booby

No, not that kind of booby. But blue-footed boobies do use their colorful blue feet to attract mates — and the brighter, the better! With such characteristic feet, you’d think these foraging birds would be better at walking, but flying is their stronger suit.

Blue-footed boobies might as well be Olympic divers. Head to North Seymour to spot them swooping down from over 60 feet above the water, plunging at 60 mph to snag a fishy treat.

That is if there’s enough to go around. Declining clupeid fish populations — the ones boobies love to dine on — means that this bird species aren’t able to reproduce as quickly. Because of this, the Galapagos Islands have lost nearly 70% of their blue-footed boobies in the past 50 years.

Galapagos Sea Lions

One of the archipelago’s cutest residents, the Galapagos sea lion is a beloved mammal. You’ll find them hanging on the beach or holding their breath underwater for a whopping 10 minutes as they dive for sardines. There’s even one Puerto Ayora resident, Pancha, who indulges in scraps fed to her by local fishermen!

Sea lions are the most abundant marine mammal in the Galapagos and adaptation is to thank. They’re the smallest of all sea lion species, yet their diving skills are stronger than most. And given their low oxygen-carrying abilities, this is a shocking feat.

A possible explanation? These aquatic critters developed lower metabolic rates to support their deep dives and general survival in the warm, unpredictable Galapagos waters.

Go admire them from anywhere along the coastline!

Magnificent Frigatebird

“Magnificent” definitely checks out: these frigatebirds are eye-catching, to say the least. Purplish feathers reflect in the sunlight, while their seriously impressive wingspan-to-weight ratio is the largest in the world.

These land birds don’t have waterproof wings, but they don’t let that stop them from feasting. Though they’ll make their meals of crustaceans and fish, this sneaky species also chase other birds, shaking them by their tail feathers until they regurgitate their food, then eat it. Yum!

Year-round, you can see them across the Galapagos Island archipelago, specifically around coral reefs, the coast, deciduous trees, and mangroves.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs

Sally Lightfoot Crabs

As the ultimate introvert of Galapagos wildlife, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an adult sally lightfoot crab when it’s not eating or breeding. Expert hide-or-seekers, they’ll spray you with water or drop one of their legs if you disturb their solitary stay tucked between rocks. Sometimes, they’ll hang around the odd marine iguana, though!

And if you think their name screams “dancer,” you’d be right. The sally lightfoot crab effortlessly escapes hunters with its awe-worthy agility. But those claws are also needed to break open any snacks (and I mean any) this scavenging marine species finds.

Find these vibrantly colored crustaceans in shallow water or on beaches throughout the remote islands. Look for them during the day: it’s their feeding time.

Land Iguanas

galapagos Land Iguanas

Land iguanas may not look the friendliest, but there’s no need to worry: they’re mainly plant-eaters! And to make matters more wholesome, they’re good pals with finches. So you might see one perched on a marina iguana’s back, snatching ticks from its scales.

Sadly, the Galapagos land iguana is now endemic to the islands, along with the Santa Fé and pink or Rosada iguana. Feral dogs caused the reptiles to go extinct on Santiago Island briefly, but thanks to the Charles Darwin Research Station, the population has begun to revive.

These days, you can catch them on Baltra, Fernandina Island, Isabela Island, North Seymour, Santa Cruz Island, and South Plaza.

Galapagos Green Turtles

Galapagos green turtle

Vegetarians, you’ve got a new ally: the Galapagos green turtle! Like other sea turtles, the ocean’s plastic pollution is a huge threat to this endangered herbivore.

The green sea turtle is vital to its underwater ecosystem, munching on seagrass and recycling it as nutrients that boost other marine life. And the ocean’s health is intimately linked to the rest of the planet — including humans.

Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” rings true for sea turtles, as they face many hurdles in their time as eggs to maturation 26-40 years later. Catch pregnant mamas laying eggs on shorelines from December through March across the coasts.

women's only adventure tour in the galapagos islands


The Galapagos’ unique ecosystem makes it possible for each separate species to thrive here. But with so many creatures endemic to the region, we must protect these animals from the growing threats humans pose.


Plastic, fishing nets, you name it. All this garbage makes its way to the ocean and can profoundly harm marine life as they ingest it or get trapped in it. You’ve heard it all before, but pollution is a massive and growing problem here.

Illegal and Overfishing

Commercial fishing increases pollution as it is, but illegal or unsustainable practices can destroy these precious ecosystems. All species exist in a delicate food chain, relying on one another for survival.

So when overfishing disturbs these balances, entire species are vulnerable. Too many or too few of a population can be detrimental to all animals.

Unsustainable Tourism

What makes the Galapagos so special? Its isolation! Historically, humans never lived on the islands, but growing tourism led to more residents and the need for more infrastructure. All this, plus newly introduced diseases, can be detrimental to the region’s flora and fauna.

Today, the government’s policies make the industry more sustainable to preserve this magical environment.

beautiful galapagos islands beaches

Galapagos Islands Wildlife Tips

Before you head out, follow these easy tips while on your Galapagos wildlife adventure!

  • Give wildlife their space. Hands off! Avoid touching or getting too close to wild species for your safety and theirs.
  • Go with a guide. Licensed guides are wildlife spotting pros. They’ll take you to the right places and have a wealth of knowledge to share. (Um, hi!, we have guides)
  • Head out early (or late). Early morning and late night are the best times to glimpse the animals. Grab your binoculars!
  • Respect the environment. Stay quiet, remain in approved areas, don’t feed the animals, and leave no trace. It’s the responsible thing to do — and you’ll have a better chance of wildlife viewing!

Ready to Explore the Galapagos Islands?

Now that you’re primed for the Galapagos Islands’ incredible wildlife, let’s get going! Call up all your adventure pals and join Explorer Chick’s unforgettable island-hopping getaway. You, 13 other badass babes, and nine days in Ecuador? Yes, please! 

Meet the Writer

megan wray writer

Megan Wray

Megan Wray is a queer, mixed-race Japanese-Canadian freelance writer based on Treaty 1 Territory. Passionate about pleasure, identity, and anti-oppression, Megan’s fuelled by meaningful chats about topics that aren’t “appropriate” for dinner table conversation. When she’s not writing, you can find Megan cooking vegan food, singing to live music, and trying to understand astrology.

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