IF THERE ARE PEOPLE who can talk rationally about the iguanas, especially the marine iguanas, of the Galapagos Islands, I am not among them. Neither was Darwin, nice polite young rich guy that he was.
The iguanas are too freaking weird. Jurassic weird. A thousand-minds-working-as-one weird. Stare you down weird. My great-great-grandmother was a dragon weird – and she flamed people like you for dinner.
There are two major groups of iguanas in the Galapagos. See photos (right, above, and throughout) of marine iguanas finding you only mildly interesting.
Land iguanas tend to be somewhat larger and more colorful than the marine iguanas, which are unique (“endemic” is the word) to the Galapagos and swim in the ocean next to your rubber panga (dinghy) alongside sea turtles, miniature penguins, sea lions, pelicans and other birds, and various fish, and the occasional shark.
Land iguana, which stay high and dry, are in two photos below only.
How iguanas got to Galapagos is also beyond my rational thought. Land iguanas on a floating tree trunk traversing more than 500 miles of open sea from the coast of what is now Ecuador? Then, over thousands of years the low-life, early-adaptor cousins branched off to get fish from the sea while the patriarchs held command of the high ground of lava and ashy sand? And it would have had to be more than one iguana on that log. Life is two by two, after all.
I mean, it must be possible. It had to have been. The penguins had to have arrived via the Humboldt Current from Antarctica. This is 6000 miles, shortest route. Were they looking for better prospects? Escaping religious persecution? Or did a couple just go out for a romantic evening swim and get carried away for, like, forever?
Then, once to the barren lava islands, their offspring became smaller and smaller until they are now only 50% larger than a football. I’d guess it has to do with keeping cool at the equator, which is why they are in the water a lot and why when on land they tend to hold their flippers out to protect their feet and why they pant.
Returning to iguanas: marine iguanas are charcoal color for the most part and camouflaged on the lava rock and sand. They hang out together. See photos, and squirm.
And they are cold blooded – but you knew that – so they like the sun. Sammy, one of our guides, calls them the original Aztecs, sun worshippers. And who wouldn’t be, waking up on cold volcanic rock at the equator where you would have assumed, wouldn’t you, it would be warmer?
See photos, and imagine basking, surviving the cold.
Marine iguana males are vaguely territorial, probably heightened by it being mating season for reptiles and amphibians in the islands. See photos, but do not replicate.
I saw mating sea turtles, giant land tortoises, and Galapagos lizards. None of it romantic. Galapagos male lizards try to eat the females while mating and sea turtle males don’t care if the females drown. See my comments on that and photos at blog titled “First Thoughts on Millennia of Lava.”
Marine iguanas hang out with their own, but have a symbiotic relationship with birds that can clean ’em up, are benignly curious about sea lions, and can’t avoid the ubiquitous red crabs. See photos, but do not imagine warm fuzzy friendships. (Look closely for black bird on back of iguana.)
I saw a 1000 marine iguanas, surely. They are everywhere, ignoring you while submerging you in primal recollections. I envied their communal life, lack of responsibilities and of guilt, and their sense of being present where they are – and their fearlessness even if not because they are courageous but because it doesn’t enter their group mind that anything would harm them.
That said, probably better to see one than be one. They can’t read and they can’t laugh. They cuddle, but do they love?
(See photos below. Enter the silence.)