Charles Darwin first came across the Galapagos Islands in 1835, when returning home from an educational visit to South America where he had been collecting animals and fossils and studying the geology of the region. He spent five weeks studying the flora and the fauna of the region, but it was the giant tortoises that particularly attracted his attention. Darwin later wrote that: ‘anyone with half an eye could immediately tell which of the Galapagos Islands the tortoises were from by their distinguishing characteristics’.
The tortoises can still be seen on a holiday to the Galapagos and have been known to reach up to four feet in length. However, the huge island tortoises are not the only animals which you are likely to spot on your Galapagos island holiday. The island’s eco-systems means that they are home to a wealth of unique animals from hammerhead sharks to manta rays and sea lions.
Indeed it was the uniqueness of the animals that first got Darwin thinking along the lines of evolution. On surveying a couple of green iguanas he was amazed to discover that whilst they resembled the common South American green iguana, both had adapted to suit the ecological climate of the Galapagos Islands. One of the green iguanas had adapted to feed on the spiky leaved cactus plants of the region, whilst another had a flattened tail which enabled it to swim in the sea, along with a blunt snout which allowed it to scrape the algae from rocks. His study also commented on the thirteen differing species of finches on the island, whose beaks had been adapted to suit the different climes.
Whilst the brightly colored finches spotted by Darwin are still abundant on the island, the most unusual birds which you will spot on your Galapagos tour are the Frigate birds. During mating season, the male birds inflate their brightly colored red pouch in order to attract a female mate. Another resident of the Galapagos Islands also on the lookout for a female mate is Lonesome George. George can be seen at the Charles Darwin Research Station and is believed to be the last remaining tortoise on Pinta Island.
All of the islands were formed from volcanoes and evidence of this can be seen at Isabela Island. Isabela has five active volcanoes and is also home to the second largest volcanic crater in the world, Sierra Nevada. On your Galapagos Island holiday walking around Isabella gives you a feel for how the islands were created and some of the questions that plagued a god-fearing Darwin at the time. Charles Darwin believed that as the islands were volcanic they must have been recently formed, meaning that animals that dwelt there had to have originally come from someplace else. This conflicted with his Christian views in accordance to Genesis that God had created all plants and animals, and that they had not changed significantly since that time.
When on your Galapagos Island holiday you will have the amazing opportunity of coming face to face with the incredible animals and natural landscapes which helped shape Darwin’s new theory and the way that people now think today.
Louise Mumford is a Latin America holiday specialist at South American Experience, a company that specializes in tailor-made arrangements for Galapagos Islands Holidays. Our dedicated team has two decades of first-hand experience in the Latin America region.