In a previous article I did from Galapagos I focussed on the short walk at Punta Suarez on the island of Española. One of the highlights of the walk, and the other island of the Galapagos, is seeing the marine iguana (Amblyrhychus critatus). These reptiles are one of the strangest animals on the planet. A ‘cold bloodied’ animal that swims in the sea, has webbed feet, a broad tail (to assist swimming) and only eats seaweed – they are completely bizarre!

Marine Iguanas-2- galapagos

Marine Iguanas-6- galapagos
It is well reported that Darwin thought them weird as well. When Darwin first saw them on San Cristobal (here on the same beach as some of these photographs were taken) he described them as follows:
“The black lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2-3 ft) most disgusting, clumsy lizards.”
He went on to describe them as:
“Imps of Darkness”

Marine Iguanas-7- galapagos

Marine Iguanas-5- galapagos
Darwin then went on to preform a type of experiment on one individual. He threw it into the sea – it crawled back onto land. Darwin threw it back in the sea – it crawled back. Every time he threw it in – it crawled back. He eventually concluded that:
“this reptile has no enemy whatever on shore, whereas at sea it must often fall prey to the numerous sharks”.

Marine Iguanas-4- galapagos
Experts out that while this might be partly right it is more likely that the particular iguana Darwin was throwing about probably hadn’t warmed up enough to survive a prolonged exposure to the relatively cool sea. They will spend long periods basking in the morning in order to warn up enough to then be able to spend relatively short periods at sea so as to be able to eat the seaweed they need to survive. The iguanas have specific bacteria in their stomachs, which aids them digest to algae.
When you see the iguanas basking on the black rocks, the vast pacific crashing against the cliffs of the southern Española with nothing between them and Antarctica – well it’s easy to dream that you are back in the age of dinosaurs when reptiles ruled the earth. Truly wonderful.

Marine Iguanas-1- galapagos

I must thank Metropolitan Touring and LAN for making an ex-biologist very happy and helping me see these wondrous creatures.