There is nowhere else on Earth like the Galápagos Islands. The wildlife is legendary for its lack of fear. You can stand mere feet from all kinds of interesting creatures—including some endemic ones found only on these islands—and carefully contemplate their fascinating daily behaviors. “It’s like going to a zoo but with one exception—you are inside the enclosure and a part of the story,” says Walter Perez, a Lindblad naturalist and author of Galápagos: Life in Motion, a book on the archipelago’s wildlife. Take a look at some of our favorite animals in action.
A CHARISMATIC & COMPLEX COURTSHIP
Noted zoologist Bryan Nelson aptly coined the courtship of the waved albatross as an “ecstatic ritual.” Their very spirited dance is made up of multiple steps—from bill clacking and head nodding to bowing, honking, and sky pointing—and all must be performed with precision as partners react to and mirror each other’s moves. All these behaviors pick up speed with practice and sometimes on the breeding grounds with multiple pairs courting, the air becomes a frenzy of calls and movements. It’s a truly one-of-a-kind wild spectacle that every nature lover should see.
SALT-SNEEZING, SUN-BASKING SWIMMING LIZARDS
One of the archipelago’s most unusual creatures, marine iguanas often live in large colonies, where it’s common to see them piled on top of one another—a smart trick for conserving heat. After foraging for algae in the chilly ocean, these iguanas can lose up to 50°F of body heat. Gathering en masse and basking for hours in the sun helps them warm up before their next dive. Back on land they also have to rid their bodies of all the saltwater they ingest—look out for these frequent and funny “sneezes” as they expel the excess salt.
EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT: A TORTOISE LIFE
When they’re not napping—up to 16 hours a day!—Galápagos tortoises can be found grazing on grass, leaves, fruit, and prickly pear cactus. The largest living tortoise in the world, these giants can consume up to 80 pounds of vegetation per day. But if needed, the resilient reptiles can survive up to a year without fresh nutrients by drawing on their large reserves of water and fat. Tortoises don’t have teeth. Instead, watch how they use the bony outer edges of their mouth to bite off and mash up food.
BLUEST FEET WINS THE PRIZE
The blue-footed booby is another seabird with a highly ritualized courtship dance. As their name implies, both males and females sport eye-catching, teal-blue feet. But the color is especially important for the males—the bluer their feet, the better their chances of impressing a potential mate. So, their comical and endearing courtship centers around showing off those blues. Males slowly lift up each foot offering it to the female for inspection. Foot tone is a signifier of health and hardiness—so she can decide if he’ll make a worthy partner.
FLIRTATION IN FLIGHT
The islands are home to two species of frigatebirds—magnificent and great—and both have a very unusual way of attracting the ladies. Males inflate a thin red pouch (or gular sac) on their throat to create a large balloon-like bulge. Thanks to the size of the pouch and the vibrant contrast of bright red against dark feathers, it’s easy to spot even from a distance. To add to their ostentatious display in the hopes of attracting a mate, males clatter their bills, wave their heads back and forth, and call at females flying overhead.