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17 Galapagos Islands Animals [Travelers Guide] Facts, Photos, Videos…

Posted in: Ecuador Animals, Ecuador Travel, Galapagos Animals, Galapagos Islands

Planning a trip to the Galapagos? Here are 17 amazing Galapagos Islands animals to watch for on your next trip! This travelers guide to the animals of the Galapagos will whet your appetite for adventure.

Galapagos Islands animals

For me, one of the best things about visiting a new place is all the amazing animals I get to see along the way. When I visited the Galapagos, I was in heaven! These islands have so many amazing animals – here are some of the animals you might see on your trip:

  1. Galapagos sea lion (zalophus wollbaeki)
  2. Sally lightfoot crab – a.k.a red rock crab (grapsus grapsus)
  3. Lava lizard (microlophus albemarlensis)
  4. Giant Galapagos tortoise (chelonoidis nigra)
  5. Marine iguana (amblyrhynchus cristatus)
  6. Blue-footed booby (sulane bouxii)
  7. Vermilion flycatcher (pyrocephalus rubinus)
  8. Swallow-tail gull (creagrus furcatus)
  9. Nazca booby (sula granti)
  10. Galapagos penguin (spheniscus mendiculus)
  11. Lava heron (butorides sundevalli)
  12. Galapagos fur seal (arctocephalus galapagoensis)
  13. Galapagos hawk (buteo galapagoensis)
  14. Galapagos sea turtle (chelonia agassizii)
  15. Galapagos noddy tern (anous stolidus galapagensis)
  16. Galapagos shark (carcharhinus galapagensis)
  17. Great and magnificent frigatebirds (fregata minor & fregata magnificens)

Endemic Galapagos animals

Interested to photograph these animals on your trip? Check out our Guide to the Best Camera for Travel

17 Galapagos Islands Animals You Need to See

The Galapagos Islands are an amazing place to see fascinating animals, they are everywhere!

You can see so many of them right outside your hotel room or in town – which is one of the things that makes the Galapagos so special: the almost seamless blending of everyday life and wild animals. It would be extremely rare to go to the Galapagos and not see most of these animals!

Traveler Tip: Learn more about each animal in our list by visiting the post linked at the bottom of each section.

Watch on YouTube

Remember: National Park Rules require that visitors maintain a distance of 6 ft (2 m) from animals at all times and never feed the animals. This is for the animal’s protection and yours! Help keep the Galapagos tourist-friendly by following these 14 simple rules.

1. Galapagos Sea Lion (zalophus wollebaeki)

The Galapagos sea lion is a personal favorite of mine, they are just so sweet-looking!

However, they are called sea lions, so don’t be fooled by that sweet face. While these animals are generally quite peaceful and unafraid of people, males can become aggressive in the mating season because they are very territorial. They are very large animals, so if you angered one… well, just don’t anger one. Galapagos sea lions average 59-98 in (150-250 cm) in length and 110-880 lb (50-400 kg) in weight.

As long as you listen to your guide (you should always go on guided tours – they know Galapagos way better than any of us!) you shouldn’t have any problems. I even got to go swimming with a young male sea lion – and that was amazing! Here’s what it was like:

Watch on YouTube

Galapagos sea lions eat up to 45 lb (20 kg) of food every day – 70% of which is sardines. They are deep divers, able to reach up to (down to?) 196 ft (60 m) and they can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.

More reading: Check out these sea lion fact posts here and here

2. Sally Lightfoot Crabs – a.k.a Red Rock Crab (grapsus grapsus)

Sally lightfoot crabs are famous for their bright colors and, of course, their fancy footwork. These spunky little fellows are up to 5 in (12 cm) across their carapace, and the internet has yet to know how much they weigh but 1/2 lb is a reasonable estimate. Their name is thought to have come from a Caribbean dancer, but no one really knows for sure. Regardless, it suits them.

It’s hard to imagine these bright crabs as being anything but bright, however, they start their lives out as tiny, black, and white/yellow spotted crabs that blend into lava rocks so much that it’s hard to spot them. As they grow up they get brighter colors.

These little rainbows can run so fast that they can even seem to run on water. They can jump and skip across the water for short distances (I remember about 3 ft) to get away from predators – or pesky sunburned tourists. After the short distance, they start to swim-run; a very entertaining spectacle indeed!

Watch on YouTube

A favorite past time for sally lightfoot crabs is sitting on marine iguanas and eating skin parasites, joy! Their relationship is symbiotic.

Galapagos sally lightfoot crab

More reading: 7 Facts About Galapagos Sally Lightfoot Crabs and Galapagos Sally Lightfoot Crabs: 12 Things to Know

Watch on YouTube

3. Lava Lizards (microlophus albemarlensis)

Lava lizards are all over the place in Galapagos. Their name suits them well – the best place to see them is skittering over the black lava rocks that cover the islands; in fact, their colors can change depending on what island they live on – and their mood.

Lava Lizard at Tortuga Bay Galapagos

More reading: Buyers Guide to the Best Sun Protection Hats – specifically for travelers to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.

These spunky little reptiles are also known for their push-ups. Lava lizards bounce up and down to attract a mate, or in an effort to look big and scary when threatened – even though they’re not much bigger than your cell phone.

Watch on YouTube

Males are up to 8 in (20 cm) long and females up to 7 in (18 cm). Unfortunately, the weight is unknown. Sufficient to say, they are pretty light.

Females lay up to 6 pea-sized eggs in the ground every month (roughly). Babies take anywhere from 3-12 months for the tiny (2 in; 5 cm) babies to hatch.

Lava lizards mainly eat different kinds of bugs, such as ants, beetles, and centipedes. They also help keep the painted locust under control on the islands. Because of their buggy diet, lava lizards build their homes around flowers and cacti that naturally attract their favorite courses.

Watch on YouTube

More reading: 7 Crazy Galapagos Lava Lizard Facts

4. Giant Galapagos Tortoise (chelonoidis nigra)

These gentle giants may be one of the most popular animals to see in Galapagos. Males grow up to 6 x 5 ft (1.8 x 1.5 m) and females are about half the size of males. Galapagos tortoises live for a long time, generally over 100 years, and the oldest known case lived to 170.

Galapagos tortoise

The tortoises kind of named the islands because the original explorers used the old Spanish word galapago to mean “saddle,” because the tortoiseshell was shaped like a saddle.

Watch on YouTube

Unlike all the cartoon movies we watched as kids, tortoises can’t just jump out of their shells whenever they want. Their shell is actually part of their skeleton. Another fascinating thing about Galapagos tortoises is that they can go for a year without water or food!

More reading: 13 Awesome Galapagos Tortoise Facts and 12 Giant Galapagos Tortoise Facts

5. Marine Iguana (amblyrhynchus cristatus)

Marine iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos and are the only iguanas that swim and feed in the ocean. They don’t seem to enjoy all the salt they suck up while feeding on algae though, because they spend a fair about of time just laying around sneezing out the excess salt.

Galapagos marine iguana

Marine iguanas can’t breathe underwater, but they can hold their breath for over 40 minutes and dive to around 30 ft (9.1 m). They can grow up to 3.2 ft (0.9 m) long and weigh up to 3 lbs (1.5 kg).

Watch on YouTube

Most postcards will show you rainbow colored marine iguanas. This happens to males during mating season to attract females.

More reading: 13 Interesting Facts About Marine Iguanas in the Galapagos

6. Blue-footed Booby (sula nebouxii)

The blue-footed booby is definitely one of the Galapagos’ most popular animals. They love to entertain tourists with their funny dance and their brilliant blue feet.

Blue-footed boobies can be found along the Pacific coast, all the way from California to Peru, but the Galapagos is an amazing place to see these funny birds because half of all blue-footed boobies nest in the islands.

Galapagos blue footed booby

Their strikingly blue feet come from their fishy meals, and you can tell how healthy a blue-footed booby is by the blueness of its feet. Bluer is better! Females will choose a male that has the bluest feet around because they know that they are healthy and will produce the best offspring.

Boobies have a very entertaining mating dance, as you can see in the video below.

Watch on YouTube

Blue-footed boobies fish by flying up high in the air and then dropping like an arrow into the water.

Males hunt in shallow water because their small size and large tail make it easier for them to change direction once in the water. The females will hunt farther out because they are larger and can carry more fish. It is amazing to watch boobies dive into the water! Enjoy the video, it’s fascinating!!

Watch on YouTube

Blue-footed boobies have a wingspan of about 5 ft (1.5 m) and they are 32 in (81 cm) tall. They weigh about 3.3 lb (1.5 kg). The male is a bit smaller with a soft whistle and the female is larger and has a rather funny honk.

More reading: 11 Far Out Facts About the Blue-Footed Booby and 9 Blue Footed Booby Facts: Unofficial Galapagos Mascot

7. Vermilion Flycatcher (pyrocephalus rubinus)

Vermilion flycatchers are pint-sized firey balls of spunk. These little guys are easy to spot: bright red with black wings and a black mask, however, the vermilion flycatcher’s bright colors fade in captivity.

Watch on YouTube

They can be found in Central and South America, as well as Mexico and the United States. The females lay up to 4 eggs –  which hatch in about 2 weeks, after which both parents share in caring for the babies.

bright-red-vermilion-flycatcher-ecuador

More reading: 15 Facts About Ecuador’s Vermilion Flycatcher

8. Swallow-tailed Gull (creagrus furcatus)

These sweet-looking gulls are the only nocturnal member of their family. They lay only one egg at a time, and they never leave their young unattended.

Amazing fact: the red ring around the swallow-tailed gull’s eye does more than make a statement. It actually gives these birds a type of night vision! It secretes an orange/red oil that acts as a light filter to enhance their prey’s (squid) light coloring.

More reading: 7 Facts About the Swallow-tailed Gull in the Galapagos

9. Nazca booby (sula granti)

These are the largest boobies in the Galapagos, measuring 3 ft (0.9 m) long and a 6 ft (1.8) wingspan. You can tell male and female Nazca boobies apart by their unique calls – the males whistle and the females honk.

Watch on YouTube

Another interesting thing about these birds is that their mating season is different on each island.

More reading: 7 Nazca Booby Facts

10. Galapagos penguin (spheniscus mendiculus)

Yes, there are penguins in the Galapagos. In fact, they are endemic to the islands and the only penguins that live north of the equator!

Watch on YouTube

These are also one of the smallest penguins in the world, weighing only 5.5 lb (2.5 kg) and being 19 in (49 cm) tall! Galapagos penguins mate for life and share in caring for the 2 eggs.

What animals only live in the Galapagos Islands?

More reading: 12 Galapagos Penguin Facts (Adaptations, Breeding, Size, Location…)

11. Lava heron (butorides sundevalli)

The lava heron is endemic and lives on all the Galapagos islands all year round. However, you may not see them because they blend into the lava very well. Lava herons are amazing hunters, feeding on small crabs, fish, prawns, lizards, small birds, and eggs.

Watch on YouTube

During the mating season, the male lava heron’s beak turns black (instead of its normal grey) and his feet turn bright orange (also in stark contrast to their usual grey color). Lava herons mate once per season and raise the young together. Like many other animals in the Galapagos, they don’t mind people.

Galapagos lava heron

More reading: 11 Facts About the Galapagos Lava Heron

12. Galapagos fur seal (arctocephalu galapagoensis)

Many people confuse the Galapagos sea lion and the Galapagos fur seal, but once you know what to look for, they are easily distinguished. Here’s what to look for:

  • The Galapagos fur seal has a short snout, but sea lions have a longer snout
  • Fur seals, as the name would suggest, have a very thick coat
  • Sea lions prefer to lay in the sun, whereas fur seals prefer the shade
  • Most Galapagos fur seals live on Fernandina and Isabela islands, but the sea lions are more widely distributed
  • Fur seals are also much smaller than sea lions
  • Fur seals ears stick out much farther than sea lions

Watch on YouTube

More reading: 10 Interesting Facts About the Galapagos Fur Seal

13. Galapagos hawk (buteo galapagoensis)

The Galapagos hawk is endemic to the islands and has no natural predator. It feeds mostly on rats, marine and land iguanas, locusts, lizards, baby tortoise, and baby sea turtles, and centipedes.

These hawks return to the same nest every year and are able to live anywhere on the islands (lava fields, forest, mountains, beach…).

Young hawks are lighter in color than the adults and have yellow-green feet and legs as well as greyish base on their beaks. The males are slightly smaller than females, the Hawks can have a wingspan of up to 4 ft (120 cm).

Galapagos hawk

More reading: 11 Facts About the Galapagos Hawk

14. Galapagos sea turtle (chelonia agassizii)

Galapagos sea turtles are smaller, darker, and have a more domed shell than other Pacific sea turtles.

Watch on YouTube

Fun Fact: The Galapagos sea turtle has this name because the Galapagos is the only place it will lay its eggs. Once every 2-3 years (between January and March), a female will swim onto the beach at night and dig a hole in the sand, where she will lay up to 200 eggs!
The temperature of the sand can determine whether there will be mostly male or female babies. Warm (over 85°F/30°C) for females and cool (under 85°F/30°C) for males.

More reading: 13 Facts About Galapagos Sea Turtles

Watch on YouTube

15. Galapagos noddy tern (anous stolidus galapagensis)

Galapagos noddy terns are seabirds – that can’t dive into the ocean. Instead, they will fly low over the surface and scoop up fish. Or, if they are brave, they sit on the heads of pelicans and catch fish that escape or they pester the pelican until it gives up its catch.

Watch on YouTube

The Galapagos noddies are the largest of their kind, having a wingspan of up to 86 cm (34 in). Because of their inability to plunge into water, their wings are specially designed to help them glide for long distances over the surface of the water.

More reading: 8 Facts About the Galapagos Brown Noddy Tern

16. Galapagos shark (carcharhinus galapagensis)

Galapagos sharks are calm, curious, and persistent little sharks. They rarely attack humans; in fact, they are considered some of the safest sharks in the world! But they are still sharks and still dangerous. So don’t poke them with sticks or call them names. Calamity will ensue.

Galapagos shark gives birth to live young, however, they do not care for the pups after birth. They can smell things, such as blood, up to one part per million (that means one drop of blood to one million drops of water!). They hang out in groups around the islands, so don’t fall in with a scraped knee… kidding! But it’s probably not a good idea.

More reading: 12 Facts About the Galapagos Shark

17. Great & Magnificent Frigate Birds (fregata minor & fregata magnificens)

These birds are famously known for that big red gular sac (commonly known as “that big red balloon thing”) that they blow up on their chest to attract a mate. It takes the male 20 minutes to inflate his sac!

Like the noddy tern, frigate birds are kleptoparasitic (steals stuff from other birds) seabirds that would rather not land in the sea. The frigate birds name comes from the old warships from the 17th-19th centuries, fast, maneuverable, and strong – the name certainly suits the birds as well as the ships.

More reading: Great Frigatebird vs Magnificent Frigatebird: 14 Frigatebird Facts

Galapagos animals


Islands of Fire

That’s it for my 17 Galapagos animals to see on your next trip, I hope you enjoyed it. We will be updating this post with new animals and new facts, so check back!

Do you have any animals to add to this list? What’s your favorite? Any Galapagos stories we should know? Let us know in the comments! 

Galapagos Islands birds

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Meet the Author

Drew is the daughter of Bryan and Dena Haines. She moved to Ecuador when she was just 8 years old. She now blogs about amazing animals on her site: EverywhereWild.com

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