Six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador lies the archipelago now called the Galapagos, made famous by Charles Darwin's excursion there in 1835. It does seem almost a "land time forgot" in that having been protected as much as possible from incursions of external species it looks much as it did when Darwin spent five weeks there studying its geology, botany and animal life. The islands are essentially the tops of volcanoes and look much like a moonscape.
The Giant Tortoise is emblematic of The Galapagos. Today they are only found there and on a few islands in the Indian Ocean, yet their ancestors previously roamed five continents. These mammoth reptiles can weigh as much as 600 pounds and may live as long as one hundred years.
A smaller reptile that is ubiquitous in the Galapagos is the iguana. The Land Iguana may be as long as 3 feet and weigh up to 25 pounds. They sun themselves on the lava rocks in the day time and retreat to their burrows in the cool of the evening.
The Marine Iguana of the Galapagos is the only seagoing lizard. It's generally very dark and much smaller than the Land Iguana. They actually drink seawater and have two glands that process the salt into a saline solution that they snort in spurts from their nostrils.
One writer called the sea lions that live in abundance on the islands, the "golden retrievers" of the Galapagos: friendly and curious about island visitors. Though smaller than their California cousins, a male might weigh as much as 500 pounds. Usually a female has only one pup at a time but can produce one every year. Since they nurse two or three years the harried mother may be feeding pups of different ages.
Almost the entire breeding population of the swallow-tailed gull lives in the Galapagos. It is the only nocturnal gull species and just one of several fascinating birds that primarily are found in this magical place.