A large reptile found on the Galapagos Islands, the land iguana can easily be seen slowly making its way across the volcanic terrain. This kind of proximity to animals that visitors experience while visiting the Galapagos is perhaps most profound with the iguanas.
Over 3 feet (1 m) long and weighing up to 30 pounds (13 k), they are usually seen basking or eating. Hugging the ground with their short-legged bodies, their diet, not surprisingly, consists of low-growing plants and fallen fruits. As they lumber along looking for food, that awesome tail drags behind creating long trails in the sand. Another attractive food is cactus pads, for the moisture they hold. One of the many curious aspects of this prehistoric-looking iguana: it is able to remove the cactus spines with its claws.
As cold-blooded creatures, they bask in the sunshine gathering heat, an element necessary for their metabolism. The lifespan of Conolophus subcristatus is a long one: 50 years or more. You can read more about the land iguana here.
Three species of land iguana live here. The one pictured here, C. subcristatus, is the most common. Another iguana on these Islands are the marine iguanas; occasionally the two species of iguana (land and marine) will mate, but these hybrids are thought to be sterile. I wrote a marine iguana post recently, link here. To read more about the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific Ocean, click here.
There are approximately 5,000 to 10,000 land iguanas and their conservation status is vulnerable and threatened. Natural predators like hawks, and introduced predators such as feral dogs, have taken their toll on this species. Additionally, although Galapagos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site now, there were many past centuries when wildlife were hunted before conservation became established. I am happy to say, many efforts over the years to protect the land iguana have been successful.
That we can still visit the same place that Charles Darwin did in 1835 and observe the same creatures he did, is a remarkable accomplishment.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander