Monday, October 20, 2008
THAT'S MY WORLD TUESDAY
Before you get too excited, no, I don't live on the Galapagos Islands! However I did visit them earlier this year and it was because my husband took so many great photos of the trip that I started my blog in the first place.
The Galapagos are an archipelago off of Ecuador. They are formed by the movement of a tectonic plate over a hotspot in the earths crust. As the plate moves over the hotspot different islands erupt out of the sea to form a chain. Over the millenia the islands slide away from the hotspot and through gradual erosion, eventually disappear back into the sea. At one end of the chain there are bare rocks that carry less life forms and are essentially just used as breeding grounds for ocean going birds.
At the other end of the chain, the 'new' islands show frequent volcanic activity and are just beginning to get populated with various life forms. Here is a fresh lava field that has flowed out into the sea.
One of the first species to inhabit this newly formed land is the lava cactus Brachycereus nesioticus.
In between the two extremes there is a huge diversity of habitat that supports the legendary range of species associated with the Galapagos. Of course the most famous of these is the giant land tortoise. There were originally fifteen sub-species on the islands, there are now eleven remaining and a very active breeding program in place to keep these populations strong.
Another unique creature is the Marine Iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus, the only iguana in the world that has adapted to swim and feed in the sea. The one in this picture is wearing a lava lizard on his head, as well as being a very stylish fashion accessory, the lava lizard does a great job of eating all the pesky little flies that swarm around the iguanas face, so both animals benefit.
Of course the Galapagos is also known for a rather famous human visitor too. Charles Darwin was quite spellbound by the diversity of unique species he found on this tiny archipelago and it was the inspiration for his masterpiece 'The Origin of Species.' One group of creatures that contributed greatly to the writing of this book were the numerous finches found on the islands. There are thirteen different species, all with very subtle differences and it was these that really set Darwin on his course of study.
One species that Darwin didn't see on his visit is the Flightless Cormorant Phalacrocorax harrisi I can't help feeling that he would have found it easier to make his point on evolution if he had seen it! Of all the species of cormorants that occur around the world, this is the only one that has evolved to flightlessness because of the lack of land predators.
One great conservation success story of the islands is that of the Galapagos Fur Seal Arctocephalus galapagoensis, which is actually a sea lion! This diminutive pinaped was hunted to the brink of extinction because of its luxurious thick fur. It is generally thought that its habit of hunting at night was one thing that saved it because it made it so much harder to catch. Hunting is now banned and the population is flourishing. You can see from this sleeping beauty that they have learned very quickly to ignore the silly humans that pass by!
There is also a short-eared owl that has adapted in a very unique way to island life. Instead of hunting at night, in the air, they have adapted to ambushing their prey underground. The tiny storm petrels roost and nest in their hundreds in cracks and cavities in the lava. The owl squeezes its way into these spaces and waits for the little petrel to return and then grabs it! The owls are very rarely seen but we were lucky enough to see one hiding out.
Where ever you turn on these amazing islands there is incredible, unique wildlife, and so much diversity for such a tiny landmass. Please let me know in your comments if you liked this whistle-stop tour because if you did I can certainly revisit it in a future posting.
For more globe-trotting via your computer screen check out That's My World
Photo Credits - Dominick V
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