Creatures of the Galapagos

A living monument

Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, on the small islands of the Galapagos, Darwin conducted much of the research for his theory of evolution. It was there that concepts like natural selection, adaptation, and variation took shape. And ever since On the Origin of Species was published 150 years ago this year, the modern field of evolutionary biology has grown from such seemingly disparate disciplines as genetics, ecology, and even mathematics. For these reasons, the islands remain a cherished place of our scientific past, where the theory that changed the way we understand the natural world first got its spark.

And that’s how we tend to view the Galapagos: a monument to a great paradigm shift. But like Darwin’s theory, the islands are still very much alive and evolving, continuing to provide researchers with new opportunities to dig deeper into the origins of life. With 95% of their prehuman biodiversity still intact today, they give us a rare opportunity to observe iguanas, brown pelicans, blue-footed boobies, and other animals living much as they did centuries ago.

The following stunning images of these Galapagos creatures offer a glimpse of the diverse fauna that inspired Darwin many years ago — and continue to inspire new generations of scientists today.

Blue-footed Booby

The blue-footed booby shows off its brightly colored feet with the hope of attracting a mate.

Masked Booby

The masked booby is one of the few birds to practice siblicide, whereby stronger newborn chicks push their weaker siblings from the nest.

Waved Albatrosses

Seen here engaged in a courtship ritual, these waved albatrosses will remain mates for life.

Brown Pelican

The brown pelican population fell sharply in the 1970s when its food supply was contaminated with DDT and similar pesticides.

Galapagos Sea Lions

Sea lions are one of the most abundant marine animals on the islands.

Galapagos Land Iguana

Land iguanas can eventually grow to over 30 pounds and three feet in length, but during the first few years of their development many fall prey to feral cats.

Galapagos Marine Iguanas

Marine iguanas will sometimes climb as high as 80 meters in search of the perfect sunbathing spot.

Giant Tortoise

The giant tortoise is on the verge of extinction, and despite conservation laws, successful breeding remains difficult because of the threat nonindigenous animals pose to tortoise nests.

Ghost Crab

Ghost crabs spend most of each day inside their sandy burrows, waiting until nightfall to explore the beaches in search of food.

Photographs courtesy of Peter Norvig.

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