Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Galapagos Giant Tortoise, Geochelone elephantopus, on Santa Cruz.
Further inland lurch the giant tortoises, fabulous mobile, self-sufficient meat lockers for sailors in the not-so-distant past, now mostly just impressively slow juggernauts, though protein deficient local people are known to enjoy deep-fried tortoise steak if they think they can get away with it.
Giant Tortoises are the animal most associated with the Galapagos Islands and indeed the namesake of the islands, as the original Spanish explorers named the islands after them. Around six feet long fully grown, this reptilian juggernaut ambles along at near zero miles per hour. It is likely that the tortoises descendants originally floated to the islands, making it also a supertanker!
This casual approach to movement means that they make excellent photographic models, whilst conserving energy for more important tasks like living for around 100 years on a diet of shrubbery.
Of the several species still extant there are two distinct shell types, the dome-back and saddle-back, the former being found more in the lush highlands, the latter using its greater neck reach to get to the harder to get leaves of the lowlands.
For those looking for finches, these can often be found pecking atop a grateful tortoise, whose neck and legs are stretched fully to assist their feathered friends in this symbiotic field hygiene and lunching exercise.
However their great size and ‘retreat back into shell’ escape and evasion methodology made them an easy target for hungry 17th century sailors, later oil makers and hungry settlers, but more sadly shell collectors and the like. Even today they are killed at a rate of around ten a year.
Sally Lightfoot crabs
A Sally Lightfoot crab and her technicolour dreamcoat.
The geology of the Galapagos Islands is essentially that of rocky basalt islands formed from shield volcanoes which have risen up to 10, 000 ft from the sea bed due to continental plate boundary movements. Also fissure eruptions of these volcanoes created other, flatter islands.
Still very much apparent is the fact that the islands are one of the most volcanically active places on earth, a strange backdrop to the unique wildlife on show.