Saturday, November 7, 2009

Galapagos Islands - Galapagos Iguana Habits, Threats, Survival, & Ecosystem Upsets Caused by Humans

By Jesse Kincaid

Galapagos iguanas are indigenous, as you might guess, to the Galapagos Islands. They are also commonly known as Galapagos land iguanas. The islands are in the eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean off the western coast of South America. The name translates into Islands of the Tortoises, and many people automatically associate tortoises with the Galapagos Islands.

The islands have a fascinating history. They are associated with pirates, whalers, and seal hunters. There was even a prison colony on the island of Floreana in the 1800's. The islands are more famously known for the studies made by Charles Darwin in 1835. His studies of the geology and biology of these islands later would be part of the research he used to write "The Origin of Species."

Galapagos iguanas usually reach a length of around 3 feet and a weight of about 25 pounds. These reptiles are not to be confused with the Galapagos marine iguana. They are more colorful than marine iguanas and inhabit the drier areas of the islands. Their primary food source is the Prickly Pear Cactus, which provides not only food for the iguana but water as well.

Galapagos iguanas sleep in burrows they dig in the ground. They enjoy basking in the sun in the early hours, shifting to shaded cooler areas as the day progresses and the temperature rises. They seem to have a "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" type of relationship with island birds, particularly finches. They elevate themselves to allow these birds to remove ticks and parasites from their bodies, in turn providing food for the birds.

In the mid 1970's, wild dogs became a severe threat to Cartago and Conway Bay iguana colonies, which required intervention by the CDRS (Charles Darwin Research Station) and the GNPS (Galapagos National Park Service.) These organizations began efforts to restore the destroyed iguana population and eventually eliminated the wild dogs from these areas.

The Galapagos iguana is primarily herbivorous just like other iguanas. However, some of these iguanas are known to feed on insects and carrion if their diet requires supplementing. Iguanas in the wild will adapt to certain environmental conditions just like any other animal in order to survive, even if it means eating something they normally would not. A land iguana is usually a brownish red color and has a yellowish orange belly.

Fresh water is very scarce on the islands where the Galapagos land iguana lives. These iguanas get most of their "water" from the prickly pear cactus. The Portulaca is another food source for the land iguanas when available. These iguanas will also drink from water pools created by rainfall when they are available.

Galapagos land iguanas are estimated to have a lifespan of fifty to sixty years. They are considered mature between the ages of 8 to 15 years. After mating, the female land iguanas create a burrow 18-20 inches deep in sandy areas and lay approximately 2-20 eggs, which hatch about 90 to 120 days later.

The largest threats to Galapagos iguanas are caused by humans. Introduced feral animals destroy egg nests and attack the native iguanas. Iguanas don't have developed skills for reacting to or protecting themselves from these predators because they are not native to the islands.

It is incredibly sad that some humans are thoughtless and unconcerned regarding how their actions threaten not only the immediate preservation of the Galapagos Islands and their native wildlife, but the preservation of the islands for the future long after they are gone. No one in good conscience should want to leave that type of "footprint." I certainly do not.

Most of the threats to the Galapagos Island native animals are human induced: the introduction of non-native plants and animals; threats of disease from increasing poultry farming on the populated islands; illegal fishing activities; oil tanker spills; illegal immigration; high birth rates; and the tourism industry.

The Galapagos Islands should be preserved for the native animals. Human tampering of the ecosystem threatens the life sustaining capabilities of the system itself. Eventually this negligent tinkering will pose a more serious threat not only to animals and plants, but humans and our entire planet as well, if it hasn't already. Eventually there will be nothing left if we don't stop destroying and start preserving.

Fortunately, with the help of organizations like the GNPS and the CDRS, ongoing implementation of new controls and plans will hopefully minimize the effects of the tourism industry. With a continued growth rate of tourists, however, there will always be a need to adapt and modify a system of controls that will be successful in preventing ecological upsets and controlling environmental impact.

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Jesse Kincaid is an avid iguana enthusiast and enjoys helping others learn how to properly and humanely care for pet iguanas. Jesse enjoys working outdoors as a kayaking, fly fishing, and rafting guide. You can read more about Galapagos Iguanas at Jesse's website.

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