Galapagos Iguanas

The Galapagos Iguanas arrived on the Galapagos Islands several million years ago from South America on floating vegetation.


Galapagos Land Iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus)

galapagos land iguanas

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.

Galapagos Flights Information and Vital Galapagos Islands Travel Facts

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.

Galapagos Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)

galapagos iguanas

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.

Recommended Reading

Ecuador & Galapagos (Insight Guides). Click to order from Amazon

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.


Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands. Click to order from Amazon

Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles of the Galapagos Islands

Small enough to fit into your pocket, yet containing comprehensive information and pictures of all the species you will encounter in the islands, this book is a must-have for nature lovers.

Let's face it, Galapagos is largely about the wildlife. This book will NOT disappoint, and you'll have a great memento of your time with the seals, penguins and tortoises!


Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World. Click to order from Amazon

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!


Moon Spotlight Galapagos. Click to order from Amazon

Moon Spotlight Galapagos Islands

If you're a seasoned Galapagos regular, then you will probably prefer something weightier.

But for first-timers looking for simple, down-to-earth advice on where to go, what to see and the best shopping and eating on the islands, this is the book for you.

Small, well-priced, and reliable!


Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire. Click to order from Amazon

Galapagos: Islands Born of Fire

The 10th anniversary edition of this photographer's tour of the Galapagos Islands is a stunning book, worthy of anybody's coffee table.

This is a perfect post-trip talking point -- a great way to remember what you've seen, and spread the word amongst your envious friends!


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If you have questions about the Galapagos Iguanas, 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 visit this Archipelago, You can Contact us here

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