The Galapagos Islands are often called “the Enchanted Islands” and for good reason. The Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, were discovered in 1535 by the Bishop of Panama when his ship was becalmed and drifted with the Humbolt current right to the Islands. So the story goes, he and his crew were short of water and searched several of the volcanic islands but little was found and men and horses died of thirst before water was eventually located, but in sparing amounts. In 1570, the Islands appear on Ortelius’s world map as “Insulae de los Galopegos”, referring to the giant tortoises that inhabit the Islands. In the beginning of the 16th century, the Galapagos became a base of operation for numerous English pirates who named the Islands mainly after English Kings and noblemen. The pirates were followed by whalers, both of which, captured large numbers of the giant tortoises for food on their voyages(since they could be kept alive for months), nearly decimating the populations. Among the whalers who stopped at the Islands was Herman Melville, the great American novelist and author of “Moby Dick”.
Charles Darwin visited the Islands as a young naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835. The vast array of wildlife, both terrestrial and aquatic, and subtle anatomical differences from Island to Island caught his attention and formed the foundation for his “Theory of Evolution” and concept of “survival of the fittest”. Darwin saw the Islands through a “naturalist’s eye” and not one of exploitation and marveled at the diversity of unique organisms. Land and marine Iguanas, dinosaur-looking lizards, covered the shorelines and Island interiors, Giant Tortoises munched on prickly pear flowers and fleshy leaves, a multitude of birds species, including what has come to be called “Darwin’s Finches”, flutter about the often sparse vegetation while Fur Seals and penguins populate the beaches and rocky shores. Of special interest are the seabirds-the Blue Footed Boobies, terns, pelicans, flightless Cormorants, Frigate Birds, etc., to name a few. With all of this life set against a background of volcanic rock, the Islands do indeed look “Enchanted.
And of particular note are the many brightly colored Sally Lightfoot Crabs (Grapsus grapsus) as seen in this picture, also known as the Red Rock Crab for obvious reasons. These scavengers are the Islands cleanup crew since they feed on a wide variety of organic debris washed in from the sea or left behind by other Island inhabitants. An interesting mutualistic relationship (both animals benefit) exist between the marine and land iguanas and the Sally Lightfoot Crabs who pick ticks and other parasites off their scaly bodies. These crabs also help control bird populations by consuming nestlings whose numbers could easily stress the limited food resources of each Island. In turn, these brightly colored crabs are preyed on by a variety of adult birds, fish, eels, octopus, feral cats, etc. They are an integral part of the Islands complex food web. And that’s important but I just like to watch their antics like so many red lights scurrying about decorating the volcanic landscape. A trip to the Galapagos Islands is a must and well worth the cost. Life is short, ENJOY!
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