WHAT TO SEE/DO
The main reason that visitors come to the Galapagos is to see its amazing habituated wildlife. The Galapagos Islands have some of the highest levels of endemism (species found nowhere else on earth) on the planet. About 80% of the land bird species, 97% of the reptiles and land mammals, and more than 30% of the plants are endemic. More than 20% of the marine species in Galapagos are found nowhere else on earth. Favorites include the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, flightless cormorant, and the Galapagos penguin — the only penguin species to be found in the Northern Hemisphere.
Mammals: 32 species recorded
Reptiles: 28 species recorded
Darwin's Finches: 13 sub-species recorded
Sea Birds: 42 species recorded
Shore Birds: 34 species recorded
Water Birds: 21 species recorded
Land Birds: 49 species recorded
The Galapagos archipelago is located at a meeting point of major ocean currents, resulting in a mingling of nutrient rich cool waters from the south, warm currents from the north, and a deep cold current from the west. This convergence of ocean currents has given rise to unique marine species.
Nearly 20% of marine life in Galapagos is endemic, and found nowhere else on earth. This level of endemism is rare for marine species, which tend to migrate and intermingle to a much larger degree than terrestrial species. The Galapagos is one of the only places where pelagic species (species that live neither close to the bottom of the ocean nor near the shore) such as tunas, manta rays, and hammerhead sharks can be seen close to shore. No other site in the world offers such diversity.
Coastal areas include vertical cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky shores, mangroves, coral reefs, lagoons, and salt flats (hypersaline panne habitats). Submarine mountains, plateaus, ridges, and valleys provide a variety of habitats to diverse marine communities, while the open ocean waters attract shoals of pelagic fish.
The terrestrial invertebrates of Galapagos are the largest group of organisms with the highest species diversity, they are present in all habitats and represent an estimated 51% of the total biodiversity. Their ecological role is essential: they act as pollinators, are part of the food chain, participate in nutrient recycling of organic material and thus contribute to soil formation.
Like other organisms, terrestrial invertebrates arrived in Galapagos by a variety of dispersal mechanisms: active flight, passive drift and transport following, in most cases, the main marine currents that arrive at the islands from Central America, and southern South America.
Native species that the Galapagos Islands share with the South American mainland were already pre-adapted to survive in the harsh island environment, but many more species have evolved and adapted to available ecological niches and are now unique for the archipelago – they are endemic species found nowhere else on earth. One of the best examples are the land snails in the genus Bulimulus. With more than 60 different species, they all evolved here and are not well adapted to many different microclimates and habitats. Some species are restricted to particular islands and are often only found in very specific habitats.
The exact number of terrestrial invertebrates in Galapagos is still unknown. Up to 2001, a total of 2289 species had been reported, but numbers are still being added to the list. As much as 51.7% of these species are believed to be endemic to Galapagos. The group with the highest species diversity are the insects. Particularly poorly studied, but very species rich groups are nematodes and mites.
Galapagos is also home to marine invertebrates, including molluscs (e.g., shells and snails), marine annelids (e.g., segmented worms), echinoderms (e.g., sea urchins and sea cucumbers), cnidarians (e.g., corals and gorgonians), sponges, and many others.