Santiago: Puerto Egas … Imps of Darkness

Monday, 9 July (Part III)

Sure, the marine iguanas deserve their own post because they are an endemic species that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.  But the real reason I’m writing about them separately is because I couldn’t pick just one or two photos from the hundreds I took during this outing.  Just be glad we saw only a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of marine iguanas that inhabit the Galápagos Islands.

I’d have to say that while they aren’t handsome, the iguanas do have a quirky charm.  In fact, describing them as being “so ugly that they are cute” is quite apt.

Our first sighting of these creatures was like a scene out of a Jurassic Park movie.  Piled upon one another to keep warm, they looked like miniature dinosaurs with scaly faces and bodies.  Perhaps that’s why Darwin was revolted by them.  He wrote, and I quote:

The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large (2-3 ft), disgusting clumsy Lizards.  They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea.  I call them 'imps of darkness'.  They assuredly well become the land they inhabit.

On the light colored beaches, the iguanas were easy to spot; not so much when they were on the lava; especially the really dark colored ones that had little hint of color.  They had absolutely no fear of us, and we had to be careful where we stepped when we were amongst them in particularly well-populated areas.

Scientists believe that marine iguanas are descended from South American land iguanas — most likely green iguanas.  It is thought that millions of years ago they drifted out to sea on debris, rafting across the ocean and eventually coming ashore in the Galápagos, probably on islands that have long since become submerged.  Spreading from there, several subspecies then developed on different islands.

The marine iguanas of Santiago are an endemic subspecies named A. c. mertensi.

Despite Darwin’s description of the iguanas, they are not always black in color.  In addition to those that are grey, some — like the ones we saw at Puerto Egas — have hints of color.  The most colorful ones are on Española, which we won’t be visiting on this itinerary.

The fierce looking features of marine iguanas bely a gentle nature.  Despite their seeming interest in the stillborn sea lion pup (post here), we didn’t see anything to contradict that.  Though they have been reported to eat grasshoppers and crabs, they are essentially herbivores whose diet consists of underwater algae and seaweed.

The NatGeo website describes some of their adaptations as follows:

Their short, blunt snouts and small, razor-sharp teeth help them scrape the algae off rocks, and their laterally flattened tails let them move crocodile-like through the water.  Their claws are long and sharp for clinging to rocks on shore or underwater in heavy currents.  They have dark gray coloring to better absorb sunlight after their forays into the frigid Galápagos waters.  And they even have special glands that clean their blood of extra salt, which they ingest while feeding.

An ‘Imp of Darkness’ in B&W.
(the iguana looks like it’s stalking the semipalmated plover in the background;
not really the case.)

After basking in the sun to warm their bodies, marine iguanas dive into the chilly ocean waters to feed on aquatic vegetation.  They return to land to warm themselves again when their bodies cool down and their metabolism slows.  They repeat this rest-feed cycle throughout the day until they’ve gotten sufficient food.  In total, however, only about 5% of their time is actually spent feeding in the water.

One reference describes marine iguanas as “refugees from a Hollywood movie.”

Please, don’t turn away from me!

This warm sand feels so good after my swim!

Enough of the marine iguanas; there will be more to come.  So, now … moving onto our beach time at Puerto Egas.


  1. Those iguanas make me feel like I am back in the prehistoric age. Amazing!
    Glad you had Mui in one of the photos. I sure does give a great idea of the size of those things. They are HUGE!

  2. Outrageous creatures inhabiting an astonishing landscape.
    Didn’t you feel all Raquel Welch in “One Million Years B.C.” ?
    (minus the animal skin bikini :)
    Simply can't get enough of these salt-snorting-sneezing cuties.

  3. Just amazing creatures - with faces only a mother could love! Thanks for the wonderful post.

  4. [reposted fm Fodor's]
    Loving this. We are doing this trip in early November so much appreciated.

  5. Their faces are so interesting. I feel as though I am transported to another world, as you must have felt the entire time.

  6. Love that B&W shot, Erin, you can just imagine his swagger as he makes his way into the water!