The land iguana is one of the most iconic species of the Galapagos Islands, with between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals living on the archipelago. Endemic to the Galapagos, they are not found in the wild in any other part of the world.
Today, most visitors can’t wait to see a land iguana. But the archipelago’s most notable early visitor, Charles Darwin, was far from impressed by these heavy set, crested reptiles. He referred to the land iguanas as “ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish-red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance” (he was equally disgusted by the marine iguanas, too).
At the time, Darwin noted how the land iguanas differed slightly in appearance from one island to the next. It was only later, however, that the land iguanas were separated into three distinct species of the genus Conolophus.
The most common and widespread is Conolophus subcristatus, simply referred to as the Galapagos land iguana, which is found living in the dry lowlands of various islands, including Fernandina, Isabela, Santa Cruz, North Seymour and Baltra.
Then there’s Conolophus pallidus, commonly known as the Santa Fe land iguana, which is found only on Santa Fe Island. It’s very similar to the Galapagos land iguana apart from its paler yellow coloration, longer and more tapered snout, and more pronounced dorsal spines.
The third species is the rare and critically endangered pink land iguana (Conolophus marthae), found only around Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island. First discovered in 1986, it is notable for its strange pink coloration. Only around 200 pink land iguanas exist today. Its miniscule range, combined with predation from introduced feral cats and black rats, which feed on the iguana’s eggs and young, have made the future of the pink land iguana fragile indeed.
Despite their differences, the three species have much in common. They are primarily herbivores, but sometimes feed on insects, centipedes and carrion. But their most important source of food is the prickly-pear cactus, which also provides up to 80% of their water intake – a vital supply on arid islands with little or no fresh water.
Other Iconic Galapagos Wildlife Species