Galápagos Marine Iguanas

One of the main attractions of the Galapagos Islands, besides its amazing beaches and volcanic landscapes, are its endemic species like blue footed boobies or marine iguanas. There are a few species that you can only find on the islands, with unique characteristics developed to survive in this very hostile but beautiful environment. This is the case of the marine iguanas, that had to develop this ability in order to survive.  If you visit Galapagos Islands (and we’ll be happy to help you with that) you’ll be able to see the adaptation mechanism of this species like Darwin did and inspired him to develop the evolution theory.

While you decide and plan your trip to Galapagos, we will tell you here all about the Galapagos Iguanas until you are able to see them yourself!

galapagos iguanas, marine iguanas, galapagos iguana facts

Galapagos Iguanas interesting facts

  • Marine iguanas can hold their breath for more than 45 minutes.

  • If you ever find a marine iguana spitting at you dont be scared! they are not being rude or aggressive, they are just taking out the excess of salt to protect their body. This a great example of the Galapagos Iguana adaptation and evolution.

  • Iguanas can go as deep as 30 meters while swimming.

  • Besides the smell, males use shiny and bright colors in their skin to get the female’s attention. The color usually varies depending on the location.

marine iguanas galapagos
  • As a consequence of global warming and the changes in the water temperature, the Galapagos iguanas developed the ability to reduce its size to be able to survive during periods of scarcity. Iguanas can reduce 20% its size and when everything is back to normal, they grow again to their normal size. Amazing right? I wish I could do that easily.

Why are so many Iguanas in Galapagos?

The marine iguana of Galapagos is one of the key endemic species that is spread throughout the islands. Here they have found an ideal place to live relaxed and comfortable.

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They take the sunbaths on the rocks. When they get bored there, they move towards the beach to continue sunbathing. That’s how they spend almost all day. Feeling a little envious, right? Its life is developed on cliffs. It is their daily routine, because they need  a  warm body to regulate their temperature, which helps them to perform many functions such as feeding.

The largest iguanas subspecies are more than one meter in length, and they are located in the north of the Island of San Cristóbal

Iguanas are part of Galapagos from several centuries ago, and have evolved differently on each island. Here you will find some especies, so you can identify them when you come across one.

Are Galapagos iguanas dangerous?

Galapagos iguanas are not dangerous at all. They usually just lay on the sand or on the rocks and you can walk by them and they wont even care or mind about you. Galapagos iguanas do not attack or do anything to people. Sometimes they would just spit a little bit but dont be scared, they only do that to eliminate the excess of salt in their bodies, not to give you any warnings.

Even though Galapagos Iguanas are not dangerous or aggressive, you have to remember that according to Galapagos Rules you should not get close to them (at least 2m apart), you should not feed them or take photos with flash. Follow this rules and you’ll be fine and you won’t affect the harmony between the Galapagos species and humans.

Galapagos iguanas swimming

marine iguanas galapagos

The Galapagos Marine iguanas are the only sea-going lizards in the world and Galapagos is the only place where you can find them.  They are able to go 30 metres deep into the sea the ocean to get their favourite algas and can spend up to 45 minutes without breathing. The ability to swim among other features, is one of the adaptations they did in order to survive, to get food in the sea.

Galapagos iguanas adaptation and the Darwin evolution theory

The first iguana arrived to Galápagos million years ago. One of the hypothesis of how they arrived to the archipielago is that iguanas came from the mainland in driftwood pushed by the wind and ocean currents. Since then, they’ve been growing its population creating different types of species and inhabiting many Galapagos beautiful beaches.

The spreading of the species led to some changes in their appearance, like color and size. However, it its believe that the adaptation and evolution they did was caused due to their struggle to survive in Galapagos, which is a ver hostile environment. They developed the ability to swim in order to get food from the sea. They developed the ability to spit the excess of salt to protect their bodies. Another amazing thing iguanas do is to shrink and reduce its size when there’s scarcity and then grown back again. They can reduced up to 20% of their size. Pretty cool right?

Galapagos iguanas size

The size of marine iguanas varies from the different species and islands they are found. The average length of a male is 1.3 meters and an female is around 0.6 meters. This is both for adults. The weight is between 0.5kg and 1.5kg. However, you have to consider that some iguanas can reduce its size and weight to adapt when theres food scarcity and then grow back again.

Galapagos Iguanas Diet – What do they eat?

The Galapagos marine iguana eats once a day, but the largest ones in size feed only every 2 or three days. The Galapagos iguanas diet consist mostly on algae found on rocks in the sea. They used their ability to swim and big claws to hold onto the rocks while they eat. They eat so much salt while swimming and eating algae that they need to spit the excess to protect their bodies.

Types of Galapagos Iguanas

The scientists carried out genetic and morphological studies and a total of 11 subspecies of marine iguanas could be distinguished, 5 of them were just recently discovered.

Galapagos Marine Iguanas

Galapagos iguanas, although not exclusively marine, they depend to a great extent on the sea.  Despite being considered marine, they only spend 5% of their time in the water.

The smallest marine iguana in the Galapagos is located on the Genovesa Island and the largest in Fernandina and Isabela island; Isla Española on the other hand, has the most colorful iguanas, with green and red spots. The red pigmentation is obtained from an algae that blooms during the warm months. As you can see there’s a lot of variety in color, size and shape within the Galapagos iguanas.

The daily activity of the iguanas depends or is determined by the temperature and the state of the tide.

Española Marine Iguana – Amblyrhynchus cristatus venustissimus

galapagos marine iguana

First, let’s start with the Española Iguana. This Iguana is not the most common in the islands, but we start from it because it is our favourite!

This iguana will definitely caught your eye! It has an amazing mix of red, green, yellow and black colours, that varies from one to another. They get this amazing colours in the mating season, in other to be more attractive, same way we dress cool when we have a date. The rest of the year they have a darker skin, and black is the predominant colour.

You will find it above the rocks around Española Island.

Isabela Island Iguana -Amblyrhynchus cristatus albemarlensis

galapagos iguana

You will find several iguana types around Isabela Island, even more if you visit Punta Albermarle, where iguanas are the queens of the area.

However, albemarlensis is a unique specie found all around the Isabela Island territory and in Tortuga island, at Isabela‘s south east . If you go for a walk to Concha Perla to do free snorkeling or take a walk along the Flamingos lake, you’ll find these iguanas chilling and laying around very still, almost looking like a rock. They do needs cause they need the sun. You can differentiate the male from the female because males usually have a very cool punky mohawk with very stiff crest

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Isabela & Fernandina Islands– Amblyrhynchus cristatus cristatus


It is the predominant iguana around the Galapagos Islands, and you will find it around  in several rocks in Isabela, but also in Fernandina Island. Males are always in the rocks having a sunbath, and their pale red turns a brilliant red during the mating season, to impress females.

In this time of the years, you can find females even 2 km inside the island, where the move to nest up their babies.

El Niño phenomenon causes a decrease of more than 85% of the population. However, due to the great work done by the Natural Park, it is estimated that around 100.000 iguanas inhabit this area of the Enchanted Islands, so even if you are not looking for them, you will find some of our friends around.

Santa Cruz Island Iguana– Amblyrhynchus cristatus hassi

galapagos iguanas

This specie lives predominantly in Santa Cruz Island. Is smaller than the previous ones. This iguana is really vulnerable given the amount of predators on that Island. The best place to find them is Tortuga Bay, when you reach the beach you’ll see them swimming and laying on the beach.

In 2000’s the an oil spread near Galápagos caused major damages to their environment, and the National Park is very concerned and working to to protect them. Its population is estimated around 5.000.

Genovesa Island Iguana – Amblyrhynchus cristatus nanus

galapagos iguanas

Is one of the smallest iguanas on the islands, due to the scarce food they can find in the surroundings.  This iguana population suffered El Niño phenomenon heavily, and it was reduced significantly.

There is no exact data about their population due to the difficult access to this island, but it is believed that near 1.5000 iguanas.

San Cristobal Iguana – Amblyrhynchus cristatus mertensi

marine iguana

Last but not least , we’ll tell you about mertensi iguanas.This big specie of Iguana used to live in San Cristobal Island, but due to the increase of its population, they moved to Santiago Island, where currently is easier to find them having a sunbath on the rocks. Their current population is unkonwn, and they are difficult to find. If you are lucky enough to see them, we’ll be happy to hear all about it!

This is not a closed list, but a summary of the main species of iguanas. Iguanas mate between different species, so you can find different iguanas with features of more than one othose described.

If you find some special iguana during your travel to the Galapagos Islands, let us know about it!


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By |2020-10-01T21:50:06+02:00June 18th, 2019|Galapagos Animals|2 Comments

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  1. Henry Schumann April 25, 2021 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Excelente Articulo, información puntual para fines Universitarios de investigación.

    • admin June 1, 2021 at 8:24 pm - Reply

      Thank you!

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