The marine iguana–the reptile of the sea

Esben loved the marine iguanas

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The marine iguana is a species of iguana found only on the Galápagos Islands that has the ability to swim in the sea. This iguana feeds almost exclusively on algae and large males dive to find this food source, while females and smaller males feed during low tide in the intertidal zone. Marine iguanas can dive as deep as 20 m (66 ft), and can spend up to one hour underwater. Most dives are shallower than 5 m (16 ft), and much shorter in duration with near-shore foraging individuals typical only spending about 3 minutes underwater.

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They mainly live in colonies on rocky shores where they warm after visiting the relatively cold water or intertidal zone.

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BUT – they can also be seen in marshes, mangrove and beaches – or even on the streets!

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Going into the ocean!

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Researchers theorize that land iguanas and marine iguanas evolved from a common ancestor since arriving on the islands from Central or South America, presumably by rafting. The marine iguana diverged from the land iguanas some 8–10 million years ago, which is older than any of the extant Galápagos islands. It is therefore thought that the ancestral species inhabited parts of the volcanic archipelago that are now submerged. Marine iguanas range from 12 to 49 cm (4.7–19.3 in) in snout-to-vent length and have a tail length from 17 to 84 cm (6.7–33.1 in). There are major differences between the islands (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_iguana).

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A few close ups

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Often spending time together with the Sally Lightfoot Crabs (right picture)

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Sally Lightfoot crabs are brightly-colored coastal scavengers, they have an extremely generalist diet, feeding on anything from sea lion placenta to other crabs. This makes them an important part of the ecosystem, as they provide services such as keeping the shore clean of any organic debris and eating ticks off marine iguanas. Adult crabs show characteristic intense blue and red coloring on their shells, with a white or pale blue underbelly. Younger crabs have darker coloration with red spots, providing a higher degree of camouflage (Source: http://galapagosconservation.org.uk/wildlife/sally-lightfoot-crab/).

They are beautiful

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But the marine iguanas are not the only cool iguanas here on Galapagos. Galapagos are also home to three species of land iguana. The well-known yellowish land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus), native to six islands, and Conolophus pallidus, found only on the island of Santa Fe. A third species of land iguana (Conolophus marthae), the pink or rosada iguana, was first seen in 1986 and remained unstudied until the 2000s.  It is found only on Wolf Volcano at the northern end of Isabela Island.  It has a pinkish head, and pinkish and black body and legs, often with black stripes. The new species is morphologically, behaviorally, and genetically distinguished from the other two (Source: https://www.galapagos.org/about_galapagos/about-galapagos/biodiversity/reptiles/).

We were lucky to see the yellow iguana at the Darwin Research Center

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Land iguanas are large — more than 3 feet long — with males weighing up to 30 pounds. Land iguanas can live for more than 50 years. They feed mainly on low-growing plants and shrubs, as well as fallen fruits and cactus pads. Land iguanas show a fascinating symbiotic interaction with Darwin’s finches, as do giant tortoises, raising themselves off the ground and allowing the little birds to remove ticks.

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