The Santa Fe land iguana (Conolophus pallidus) is endemic to just one island in the Galapagos archipelago: the 9.2-square-mile Santa Fe Island. The entire global population of around 7,000 Santa Fe land iguanas lives on this single, small volcanic island, one of the oldest and most centrally located in the archipelago.
The Santa Fe land iguana was first described by the American zoologist Edmund Heller more than a century ago. And to this day, zoologists still debate whether it’s actually its own species, or simply a subspecies of the Galapagos land iguana (Conolophus subcristatus), which lives on several islands and is the most common species of iguana on the Galapagos.
Despite the obvious similarities between the two species, the Santa Fe land iguana does have some key differences that set it apart. It is paler than the other Galapagos species, allowing it to blend in well with the landscape of Santa Fe (which makes it harder to spot). It also has a more tapered snout, and smaller dorsal spines, than Conolophus subcristatus.
Being stuck on one small island could have been a serious issue for the survival of this species, but it has adapted well to the available resources on Santa Fe. The island’s prickly-pear cactus accounts for the bulk of the iguana’s diet, and also provides much-needed moisture on an island where fresh water is scarce.
Santa Fe land iguanas are primarily herbivorous, but do occasionally eat insects, centipedes and carrion. But few things get these iguanas more excited than the yellow flowers of the genus Portulaca. When this plant is in season and flowering, the iguanas will happily munch away on its flowers all day.
When they’re not eating, the iguanas like to bask in the sun. And as they do so, they enjoy a strange but mutually beneficial relationship with the island’s finches. The finches pick off parasites and ticks that cling to the iguanas, providing some much-needed relief for the reptiles and a handy source of food for the finches.
Other Iconic Galapagos Wildlife Species