Animals A-Go-Go

Marine Iguana in the Galápagos

Apr 24, 2001
Outside Magazine

Marine iguanas are big, spiny, sluggish, awful-looking lizards that sneeze a lot. Even critterphile Charles Darwin pronounced them "hideous." What more could a kid ask for? The only seagoing lizards in the world, they are found exclusively in the volcanic, equator-straddling Galápagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador. Like many of the species in the Edenic Galápagos, marine iguanas are unafraid of humans and will allow you to get as close to them as you wish. (Of course, you could just stay on the boat and have a cocktail while your kids go see the nice lizards.) Though they feed mostly on marine algae in shallow tide pools and exposed reefs, the largest (males grow up to four feet long) can dive as deep as 40 feet and stay underwater for more than an hour. The George Hamiltons of the reptile set, cold-blooded marine iguanas are compulsive sunbathers, using hot lava rocks to elevate their body temperature before and after swimming. At dusk, they heap themselves together in nightmarish pig piles in order to conserve body heat. Excess salt in their diets is removed with frequent sneezing, which explains their particularly fetching feature of having their heads constantly encrusted with salt. Though there are some 200,000 to 300,000 marine iguanas—or about 4,500 per mile of coastline—scattered across the 50-island Galápagos archipelago, on many islands they are losing the survival battle against egg-attacking rats and feral cats.
WHAT ELSE YOU'LL SEE: Blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, lava lizards, Galápagos penguins, flightless cormorants, flamingos, Sally Lightfoot crabs, Eastern Pacific green sea turtles, Galápagos fur seals, dolphins, waved albatross.

Filed To: Nature, Galapagos