Galapagos Marine Iguana

The Galapagos Marine Iguana is the only "sea-going lizard" in the world. They can be found only in these Islands.

Galapagos Marine Iguana


galapagos marine iguana

This reptile lives on rocky coasts, feeding on seaweed, and can remain underwater for up to 45 minutes. The scientific name of the marine iguana is Amblyrhynchus cristatus.

The name is derived from the characteristically blunt snout, which allows the marine iguana to scrape algae off of the rocks with their razor sharp, three-cusped teeth.

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It is found throughout the Galapagos Islands wherever there are suitable shores. It may be found in densities of well over 3,000 per kilometer of coastline.

The Galapagos marine iguana feeds almost entirely on algae (seaweed) that is found between the tide-lines or below the sea's surface. The food consists of small red or green algae.

Marine iguana eats most of the algae species, except the large brown seaweed Blossevillea. This is indigestible for the marine iguana.

Marine iguanas are widely distributed throughout the Islands. Although the different populations vary in size and color, they are all considered to be a single species.

The smallest Galapagos marine iguana is found on Genovesa Island and some of the largest iguanas are located on Fernandina Island and Isabela Island. But the most differentiated and colorful marine iguanas can be seen at Espanola Island

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These iguanas have blotches of coppery green and red. The red pigment comes from a particular seaweed that blooms during the summer months, which also coincides with the iguanas' mating season.

Marine iguana in Galapagos eats once a day, but some of the larger ones will feed only every second or third day.

The pattern of daily activity is largely determined by the temperature and the state of the tide.

The larger males will usually wait until the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest and they have had time to warm up before they will swim offshore and start diving to feed.

The rest of the population leaves the colonies a little before the tide has reached its lowest ebb and feed on the shoreline.

As I said before, the size is different amongst Galapagos marine iguanas, it depends mainly on the island it inhabits.

Marine iguanas have a variety of physical characteristics that permit their unusual feeding habits. The Galapagos marine iguana has incredible swimming abilities.

Their tails are flattened and they swim by lateral undulation of their bodies, with their limbs held to the side.

Their claws are long and sharp in comparison to the Galapagos Land Iguana that enables them to cling to rocks along the shore, and resist being pulled away by heavy waves.

Adult iguana male's coloration varies with the season. Breeding-season adult males on the southern Islands are the most colorful and will acquire reddish and teal-green colors.

While on Santa Cruz they are brick red and black, and on Fernandina they are brick red and dull greenish.

Only the largest males dive because larger animals have proportionally smaller body surface areas than smaller animals and are therefore more resistant to the loss of body heat at the surface.

As an ectothermic animal, the Galapagos marine iguana can spend only a limited time in the cold sea, where it dives for algae.

However, by swimming only in the shallow waters around the Island they are able to survive single dives of up to half an hour at depths of more than 15 mts.

After these dives, they return to their territory to bask in the sun and warm up again.

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The marine iguana from Galapagos can shunt blood away from the surface to conserve heat, and they can drastically reduce their heart rate. It is important to note that two parts of the same population have different activity cycles.

This may well be a result of the difficulties of offshore feeding for the smaller Galapagos marine iguana which cannot store much heat or swim well, and they cannot make use of the more abundant offshore food resource.

Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides)
With 250 photos and tons of great information, this is an essential addition to your pre-Ecuador and -Galapagos reading! There are better guides if you are only interested in the islands, but for a combination trip taking in Ecuador as well, it's hard to beat.

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Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands
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Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World

Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World
Definitely NOT a tourist's guide, but if you're like me, and find the history and geography of the islands irresistible, then this is a title you ought to invest in. Stunningly illustrated, and painstakingly researched, those of you who have been there will be enchanted again -- and those of you who have not will begin planning your trip!

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Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands
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Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire
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If you have any questions about the Galapagos Marine Iguana, You can post them on our Galapagos FAQ Page and if you'd like to request more information about our recommended Galapagos Island Tours to explore this Archipelago, You can Send your request here

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