The Galapagos Iguanas arrived on the Galapagos Islands several million years ago from South America on floating vegetation.
There are two species of land iguana found in the Galapagos Islands.
The Conolophus subcristatus is native to six Islands, and Conolophus pallidus is found only on Santa Fe Island
They are large (over 1 meter long), yellowish animals, with males weighing up to 13 kilograms.
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Galapagos iguanas are thought to have had a common ancestor which floated out to the Islands from the South American mainland on rafts of vegetation.
Both inhabit the arid regions of the Galapagos Islands, where they sleep in land burrows to conserve their body heat at night.
The Galapagos land iguana feeds on Galapagos Cactus (mainly the prickly pear cactus) and their flowers. It suffers no adverse affects from eating cactus spines, which pass easily through its digestive system.
It is not unusual to see them sitting under a cactus, waiting for pieces to fall. They normally use their front feet to scrape the larger thorns from the pads, but they don't seem to mind the smaller thorns.
Usually they will gulp down a cactus fruit in just a few swallows. Like other iguanas, the juveniles feed primarily on insects.
The Galapagos Land Iguana varies in morphology and coloration among different Island populations. There are two taxonomically distinct forms of Conolophus inhabiting the western part of the Galapagos Islands (C. cristatus and C. pallidus) and one in the central part (C. cristatus).
Its generic name, Conolophus, is derived from two Greek words: cono meaning "spiny" and loph meaning "crest", denoting the spiny crests along their backs. Its specific name subcristatus is derived from the Latin words sub meaning "lesser" and cristatus meaning "crested," and refers to the low crest of spines along the animal's back which is not as tall as in most iguanas.
Charles Darwin described the Galapagos iguanas as "ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red color above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance."
Being cold-blooded, the Galapagos iguanas absorb heat from the sun by basking on volcanic rock, and at night sleep in burrows to conserve their body heat.
These iguanas from the Galapagos Islands also enjoy a symbiotic relationship with birds, the birds remove parasites and ticks, providing relief to the Galapagos iguanas and food for the birds.
This Galapagos iguana has the unique ability among modern lizards to live and forage in the sea.
It is found only on the Galapagos Islands, but has spread to all the Islands in the Archipelago, and is sometimes called the Galapagos Marine Iguana.
It mainly lives on the rocky Galapagos shore, but can also be spotted in marshes and mangrove beaches.
The cold waters of the Galapagos Islands provide both the necessary food for the Marine Iguanas and its most deadly threats.
The cold temperatures can immobilize an iguana if it remains in the water too long.
Until the arrival of man, Marine Iguanas only threats were that of larger fish and sharks encountered while swimming.
When Marine Iguanas are not feeding they seek safety and warmth of the land.
In the 19th century when Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands he found thousands of Marine Iguanas living along the rocky shore.
He picked one up and threw it into the ocean, it instantly swam back to the shore.
This was repeated several times and the Iguana continued to seek the safety of the shore when it could have easily swum off to escape Darwin.
The black rocks under the equatorial sun provide the needed warmth for these Galapagos iguanas.
On a warm day these rocks can heat up to deadly temperatures. Yet, territorial male Marine Iguanas, remain in the sun during the day.
Cooled by a circulatory heat shunt carrying heat from the back to their bellies where the sea breezes coming off the cool ocean waters can cool them by convection.
At night the iguanas pile by the hundred in order to provide heat for one another.
Marine iguanas are found all through the Galapagos Islands. Although the iguanas on each Island look a little different and are different in size, they are all the same kind of iguana.
The iguanas develop their colors as they get older, the young are black, while adults can have combinations of black, green, red or grey, depending on the Island on which they live.
The Galapagos iguanas on Espanola Island are the most colorful, with blotches of red and green. The red color comes from a kind of seaweed that blooms in the summer.
Marine iguanas are vegetarians, feeding on seaweed on the rocks, in tidal pools or in the sea. The biggest iguanas, generally males, swim out past the waves and feed underwater.
They dive about 1.5 - 5 mts down, but some very large adults can dive about 15 mts or more.
Marine Galapagos iguanas are generally underwater for just a few minutes, but have been known to be underwater for over half an hour.
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