The Arrival of Plants and Animals on the Galapagos Islands

Explore the unique plants and animals of the Galapagos Islands and how they came to be on the Galapagos Islands.

| March 2018

  • Sunset Galapagos Islands
    Sunset view form the Galapagos Islands
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • red mangrove seedlings galapagos islands
    The seedlings of the red mangrove may float for months, which allows them to disperse widely.
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • lichen spores galapagagos islands
    The lightweight spores of lichen ensure that they are among the most widespread organ¬isms on the planet.
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • 140 species ferns galapagos islands
    Over 140 species of ferns have managed to colonize the Galapagos, of which a dozen are found nowhere else.
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • semipalamted plover galapagos islands migrant
    The semipalmated plover is one of the common annual migrants seen in the islands.
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • scalesias flower galapagos islands
    The Scalesias belong to the aster family, second only to the orchid family for total numbers of species worldwide. Colonizing seeds could easily be transported to the Galapagos on the muddy feet of a migrant yellow-crowned night heron.
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • yellow-crowned night heron galapagos islands
    May transport Scalesias flower seeds to Galapagos on muddy feet.
    Photo by Wayne Lynch
  • Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin plant animals
    “Galapagos” by Wayne Lynch, dives into the plant and animal life on the Galapagos Islands.
    Courtesy of Firefly Books

  • Sunset Galapagos Islands
  • red mangrove seedlings galapagos islands
  • lichen spores galapagagos islands
  • 140 species ferns galapagos islands
  • semipalamted plover galapagos islands migrant
  • scalesias flower galapagos islands
  • yellow-crowned night heron galapagos islands
  • Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin plant animals

Galapagos: A Traveler's Introduction(Firefly, 2018), by Wayne Lynch, takes readers with him through his travels of the Galapagos Islands. Lynch shares his travel experiences through vivid story-telling and photography. Readers will gain a better understanding of the life that habitats the islands and how the plants and animals may have landed on the islands. Find this excerpt in Chapter 3, Tiny Targets in a Giant Sea.  

Tiny Targets in a Giant Sea

Before I started to study the Galapagos Islands I never thought much about how islands are colonized by plants and animals, and it turns out to be an unexpectedly interesting process. The Galapagos are oceanic islands that arose from the repeated eruptions of underwater volcanoes. As with all volcanic islands, once the lava cooled, life had to settle on a landscape of barren rock. Today the islands boast a varied assortment of reptiles and seabirds but not a single amphibian or freshwater fish, and very few mammals. Biologists describe life on the Galapagos Islands as “unbalanced” — vastly different from Central and South America, where the majority of the colonists originated. How, then, did the Galapagos Islands acquire the unique mix of flora and fauna that they have today?

Think of the islands as a tiny target adrift in the vast eastern Pacific, a thousand kilometers or more from the nearest land. To get an idea of the challenge facing any animal or plant that might settle on these islands, imagine yourself sitting in the top row of a large football stadium. There is a grape lying on the ground in the middle of the field. It is too far away for you to see, but you must hit the grape with a dart. If you fail, you will die. Good luck!

For most successful colonists to the islands, it was indeed sheer luck that determined their fate. Many failed and perished. None of those successful animal pioneers were actively searching for the islands; all arrived by accident. Even so, for some colonists the odds were stacked in their favor — they were good long-distance travelers.



All the plants and animals that settled on the islands arrived in one of three ways: by sea, by air or carried by wildlife. Plants that came by sea either had to float on their own or were carried on a raft of vegetation. Mangrove seeds are famous for their long-distance journeys by sea, and most tropical coastlines worldwide are rimmed by forests of mangroves. Four species grow in the Galapagos: red, black, white and button mangroves. All are tolerant of salt water and their fruit and seeds float, even if only for a limited time, allowing dispersal by ocean currents.

Charles Darwin was very interested in how plants disperse. After his visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835, he spent several decades making experiments to learn how they do this. Once he started thinking about it, he couldn’t stop; he had become obsessed with knowing. In one experiment he investigated how long seeds could stay alive inside the crop of a bird that had died at sea and then floated with the ocean currents. He discovered that they could survive for a month inside the bird, yet those same seeds would die after three or four days if they were dropped directly into seawater, unprotected.



Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard
Free Product Information Classifieds

}