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Back to: Introduction to Fishwatcher's Guide Series Pieces/Sections

/Fishwatching: Adventure Travel Series

Visiting in the Galapagos Islands


Bob Fenner

Geocholone elephantopus


Bartolome Island

Two views of Pinnacle Rock, Bartolome Island. The more reddish ground is indicative of oxidation of iron, younger age.

Tiquilia plants on cinder slope looking up to summit of Bartolome Island. The flowers of the Tiquilia are principal food items of the endemic lava lizard.




The Sea

Algae of the Galapagos: About 333 species occur here (35% of which are endemic).





Marine Invertebrates of Galapagos:


Anemones: http://www.conservationinstitute.org/anemonebarrens.htm





Corals: 31 species of non-reef building (of which a third are endemic) and 13 hermatypic. None greatly abundant. Porites lobata,  Pavona clavus, Pavona gigantea Pavona varians, Psammocora stellata, Diaseris distorta and Cycloseris curvata.

Pocillopora damicornis and P. elegans are found in the Galapagos.

Mollusks: About 600 species recorded.



Crustaceans: About 100 species of crabs.

Grapsus grapsus, the Sally Lightfoot Crab. Galapagos pix.


Sea Urchins: 24 species recorded.

Eucidaris thouarsii (Valencinnes 1846), Slate Pencil Urchin. Family Cidaridae. To 10.2 inches in diameter. Sea of Cortez to Ecuador and Galapagos Islands. Ten rows of 5-8 variously sharp/dull club-like spines. Feeds on benthic algae and Pocillopora and Pavona corals. Common in the Galapagos. Found on rocky shore shallows to 150 meters depth. Galapagos pic.

Lytechinus semituberculatus (Agassiz & Desor 1846), Green Sea Urchin. To 6.4 inches in diameter. Southeastern Pacific; Columbia to Peru and Galapagos Islands. Decidedly yellow green in color. Common in rocky shores to 134 meters. Feeds principally on benthic algae. Galapagos pic.

Tripneustes depressus A. Agassiz 1863, the White Sea Urchin. To 12.5 inches in diameter. Eastern Pacific; Southern California to Ecuador and Galapagos Islands. Principally feeds on coralline algae. Galapagos pix.

Sea Stars: 28 species recorded.

Nidoriellia armata (Gray 1840), a Chocolate Chip Sea Star. Family Oreasteridae. To 6.6 inches in diameter. Mid to Eastern Pacific; Hawaii, Sea of Cortez to Peru and Galapagos. Blunt arms, large central disc, large aboral spines dark in color. Variable color and shape. Intertidal to 73 meters, feeds on benthic marine invertebrates, gastropods and algae. Galapagos pic.

Pentaceraster cumingi (Gray 1840), the Panamic Cushion Star. Family Oreasteridae. To 13.4 inches in diameter. Mid to Eastern Pacific; Hawaii, Sea of Cortez to Peru and Galapagos. Variably red, orange to greenish blue bodied with large red spines. Feeds on micro-fauna in substrate, benthic algae, seagrass and other echinoderms. Usually found on sandy bottoms from shallow to 180 meters depth. Galapagos pics.

Phataria unifascialis (Gray 1840), the Blue Sea Star. To 7 inches in diameter. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Peru and the Galapagos, rocky shores to 50 meters depth. Dorsal surface blue or tan with black peppled lines, underside orange. Algae feeder. Galapagos pic.

Sea Cucumbers: 30 species recorded.



Fishes of the Galapagos: About 400 described species, 17% endemic.


Myrichthys maculosus (Cuvier 1816), the Tiger or Spotted Snake Eel. To a meter in length. Indo-Pacific: Red Sea and East Africa to the central Pacific, not including Hawaii and the Leeward Islands. Replaced by Myrichthys magnificus in the Hawaiian Islands. Lives in and above sandy bottoms, sometimes exposing itself entirely while hunting for food. Here, out and about during the day in the Galapagos.


Gymnothorax castaneus (Jordan & Gilbert 1883), the Chestnut  Moray (to science) or Morena Verde. To 150 cm. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Ecuador, including the Galapagos, particularly the northern islands of Darwin and Wolf. Wolf image.


Scarus ghobban Forsskal 1775, the Bluebarred Parrotfish. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Peru... a Lessepsian species, found in the Mediterranean. To 90 cm. in length. Feed on algae growing on coral, rock. Pix of initial and terminal stage individuals in the Galapagos.

Scarus rubroviolaceus Bleeker 1847, the Ember Parrotfish. Indo-pan-Pacific; eastern Africa to Panama, including Hawaii and Galapagos Islands. To twenty eight inches in length. Shown, a female and male off Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia. 



Alphestes immaculatus Breder 1936, the Pacific Mutton Hamlet. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Peru, including Galapagos. To one foot overall length. This one in the Galapagos. A beauty. There are five species in this genus.

Cephalopholis panamensis (Steindachner 1877), the Panamic Graysby, Cabrilla. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Ecuador, Galapagos. To twelve inches in length. A secretive species. Galapagos pix.

Dermatolepis dermatolepis (Boulenger 1895), the Leather Grouper. This fish has "made the rounds" taxonomically, being placed in other genera (more recently Epinephelus). Tropical eastern Pacific. Cute when small, this species grows quickly to a large size, to three feet long in the wild. A tiny individual in a sea urchin, six and twelve inch individuals in the Galapagos and a two footer in Baja.

Liopropoma fasciatum Bussing 1980, the Banded Bass. Tropical eastern Pacific. To seven inches overall length. A deepwater, shy species that hangs out in caves. It's easily trained to stay out in the open in captivity. Aquarium photo, here at the Birch, SIO. Rarely offered in the trade.

Mycteroperca olfax (Jenyns 1840), the Bacalao. Recorded from Cocos (Costa Rica) and Galapagos. To 120 cm. in length. Two foot specimen of Galapagos. 

Paranthias colonus (Valenciennes 1846), the Pacific Creolefish. Mexico's California to Peru. To fourteen inches in length. Occasionally sold in the aquarium trade under its own name... Individuals of the species in the Galapagos. An intermediate individual of four inches (young ones are all yellow), and a mottled and commonly colored one. This is the most common bass species by far in the Galapagos.

Serranus psittacinus Valenciennes 1846 (S. fasciatus (Jenyns 1840) is a common synonym. The Barred Serrano. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Chile, including Galapagos. To seven inches in length. Two four inch ones, in a fish shop in New Jersey, another at home in the Galapagos!


Abudefduf troschelii (Gill 1862), Panamic Sergeant. Eastern Pacific; Baja California to Peru and the Galapagos Islands. To six and a half inches in length. One down at Mexico's Baja tip, another in the Galapagos. 

Microspathodon bairdi (Gill 1862), the Bumphead Damselfish. Tropical eastern Pacific, Baja to Ecuador. To ten inches in length. This one in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico's Baja California.

Microspathodon dorsalis (Gill 1862), the Giant (Mexican) Damselfish. Tropical eastern Pacific, Sea of Cortez to Ecuador. To ten inches in length. Here are juveniles (1", 3") and an adult (9") in the Mar de Cortez.

Stegastes arcifrons (Heller & Snodgrass 1903), the Island Major. Good looking and... quite a bonus, a known Aiptasia eater! To 13 cm. Eastern Pacific: Costa Rica and from Cocos, Malpelo and Galapagos islands in shallow, rocky shores. Typical for genus, this is a territorial species that is constantly looking for, if not driving off members of its own and often, other fish species. Feeds on algae and small invertebrates, including tubeworms and anemone tentacles.

Intermediate and adult individuals in the Galapagos.


Stegastes beebei (Nichols 1924), the Southern Whitetail Major or Galapagos Ringtail Damselfish. Eastern Pacific, Panama to Galapagos. To six inches maximum length. Juvenile, intermediate and adult photo in the Galapagos.

Angelfishes (Only one in Galapagos)

Holacanthus passer Valenciennes 1846, the King or Passer Angelfish (1). Juveniles act as cleaners of other fishes. To about nine inches in length. A great, hardy fish for a large marine system. Mid Sea of Cortez on down the Pacific coast to the Galapagos. Two inch one in Cabo, four inch juvenile in the Galapagos and adult in Cabo, Mexico.

Butterflyfishes: Only two are common, Johnrandallia nigrirostris, at times in large aggregations and Chaetodon humeralis (mostly in pairs), but a handful of more tropical mid to eastern Pacific species can be found in the northernmost Galapagos seasonally... and the Scythe (Prognathodes falcifer) at times at depth.

Johnrandallia nigrirostris (Gill 1862), the Blacknosed Butterflyfish or El Barbero (Barberfish). Sea of Cortez to Ecuador, including the Galapagos, 10 to 120 feet. To six inches overall length. A facultative cleaner as juveniles. Pictured here at the tip of Baja and the Galapagos, the latter where it is most common.

Tangs/Doctorfishes: Six species, but principally Prionurus laticlavius

Acanthurus nigricans (Linnaeus 1758) Whitecheek to science, Powder Brown Surgeonfish to aquarists. Formerly mis-identified as A. glaucopareius. Pan Pacific. To about eight inches maximum length. See article on this and the very similar, but more pet-fish-appropriate A. japonicus. At right in Nuka Hiva

The Moorish Idol:

Zanclus cornutus (Linnaeus 1758), the Moorish Idol.  Indo-Pacific. Can be kept in captivity, though rarely lives due to trauma in capture, holding, shipping, starvation during this time, damage to their mouths... Omnivores that mainly feed on benthic invertebrates. Principally sponges... and algae. One off of  the Galapagos.

Jacks: Mostly large, silvery and just barely in sight out in the blue, or headed there

Seriola rivoliana Valenciennes 1833, the Almaco Jack. Circumtropical. Maximum recorded length 160 cm. A juvenile in N. Sulawesi, and a mid-size adult in the Galapagos. 


Sphyraena idiastes Heller & Snodgrass 1903, the Pelican Barracuda. Southeast Pacific; Peru, Galapagos, Cocos Islands. To 91 cm. Usually found in large groups, oblivious to divers. Galapagos pic.


Lutjanus viridis (Valenciennes 1846), the Blue and Gold Snapper. Eastern Pacific; Mexico to Ecuador. To one foot in length. In the Galapagos. Five black lined bluish bars on body. 


Arothron hispidus (Linnaeus 1758), the White-Spotted Puffer. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, east African coast, tropical east Pacific coast. To twenty inches in length in the wild.

Photo taken in the Galapagos.



Sea Turtles: Mainly the Green (Chelonia mydas) is encountered, though the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and Olive Ridley's (Lepidochelys olivacea) occur in the Galapagos.

The Land

Reptiles: Twenty two species in five families including the marine turtles (Cheloniidae), tortoises (Testudinidae), iguanid lizards (Iguanidae), Geckos (Gekkonidae), and colubrid snakes (Colubridae). Twenty endemic species. 

Lizards of Galapagos

Iguanas: 3 species: http://www.shunya.net/Pictures/Ecuador/
Galapagos/Iguanas/Iguanas.htm, http://www.biology-x.com/

Amblyrhynchus cristatus Carpenter, CC (1966), the Marine Iguana. Endemic to the Galapagos Islands. To 2-3 feet in length. Live on land, but feed on seaweeds underwater, diving to depths of 15 meters. Have long nails (for holding on) and laterally flattened tails (for swimming above and below water), sharp tri-cuspid teeth (for biting off algae). Genus name refers to short-nose of the species. Monotypic. http://www.unep-wcmc.org/species/data/species_sheets/iguana.htm~main http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/
information/Amblyrhynchus_cristatus.html http://www.kidcyber.com.au/topics/marineiguana.htm http://www.rit.edu/~rhrsbi/GalapagosPages/MarineIguana.html http://www.oceanfootage.com/oceans/search/search/Marine+Iguana///?DVfSESSCKIE=9d7642a1322d4d884e0337ee01fd9d6415b77493 UW photo by Diana Fenner off Bartholome Island.
Conolophus subcristatus Land Iguana. Endemic to the Galapagos Islands. To a meter in length and girthy. Live on the land exclusively, mainly eating prickly pear cactus. Found on six islands. Two species in this genus in the Galapagos, the Santa Fe Land Iguana, C. pallidus is more uniform in color, with a more uniform colored, yellow body, and dorsal with more pronounced spines.


Photo by Diana Fenner on Baltar Island.

Lava Lizards: Genus Tropidurus, seven endemic species.

Tropidurus spp. Examples from Santa Cruz and Bartolome Islands.


All told there are eleven subspecies (one with only one surviving member...) of the one species, Geochelone elephantopus. The name "Galapagos" is derived from the name given these turtles in reference to their "gala pagos" = Spanish

 saddle shaped shells. The various sub-species are distinguished, differentiated in part by the shape of their shells. Males are much larger than females... Shown, a low profile type taking a siesta at mid-day and a female high-shelled type in the process of digging a nest.

Birds of Galapagos: Aquatic

Sheniscus mendiculus, the Galapagos Penguin. To 35 cm. in height (the third shortest of the eighteen species of penguins of the world). Only tropical species, nesting north of the equator. Here by Pinnacle Rock on Bartolome Island, Galapagos.

Pelecanus occidentalis, the Brown Pelican. Juveniles are all brown, adults as shown at right. This species occurs widely around the Americas coasts. One of eight pelican species worldwide, the Brown is the smallest in size. Galapagos image.

Sula nebouxi, the Blue Footed Booby. One of three species in the Galapagos. Most common species there, with bright blue feet. Females distinctly larger in size than males, with a correspondingly larger apparent iris/pupil. Shown male on nest with a guano ring, Female and bushy chick.

Fregata magnificens, the Magnificient Frigatebird. One of two species in the Galapagos and of five worldwide. The Frigates are also called "Man o War Birds" for their pirating ways. Mainly found in the Caribbean. Pix from Seymour Island, Galapagos. Male with a young chick on Seymour Island, Galapagos.

Fregata minor, the Great Frigatebird. Very similar to the Magnificent Frigate, but females with white only under chin, and males lack the brown band across the wings and purplish tinge color on their backs. A female with young and a displaying male shown on Seymour Island, Galapagos.

Birds of Galapagos: Terrestrial, twenty nine species, 3/4 endemic, and 14 colonizations

Geospiza fuliginosa, the Small Ground Finch. One of the unique subtribe (Geospizini) of Darwin's Finches. 13 species (a 14th occurs on Cocos Island). Noted for their specialized beaks/diets. Here a female is sitting on a wall at Darwin Station on Santa Cruz Island. Males of this species are all black in color.

Dendroica petechia aureolla, the Yellow Warbler.


Mammals of Galapagos: Pinnipeds (two), dolphins, whales, a diminishing number of rat species and bats... not including feral introductions of cats, dogs, burros, non-indigenous rodents...

Zalophus californianus wollebacki, the Galapagos Sea Lion. Males much larger, with a "bump" on their foreheads. To 250 kg. Galapagos pix of a dry female on land and a youngster underwater. Brown in color when dry, blackish when wet.



Plants of the Galapagos


Jasminocereus thouarsii Candelabra Cactus. To 7 meters tall. Cylindrical in cross-section that look like organ pipes. Small flowers (1-2 inches across) are pollinated by night-flying insects (moths), bearing edible reddish-purple fruits. Three sub-species occur in the Galapagos. This pic made at Darwin Station, Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island.

Opuntia echios var. gigantea, one of the Prickly Pear Cactus. To 12 meters in height. Reddish bark when older, green and spiny when young. Stems as cactus "pads" bear spines in groups. Fourteen Opuntia types occur in the Galapagos.

Opuntia sp. Shrubby Prickly Pear Cactus. Another of the 14 species found here (there are more than 300 in N. America). Important as food for tortoises and land iguanas, the fruit/seeds and flesh of this genus are used by insects and birds as nourishment as well. Baltar Island.

Terrestrial Invertebrates:

Schistocerca melanocera, Painted Locust, Baltar Island, Galapagos.


Bibliography/Further Information:

Galapagos Conservation Trust: http://www.gct.org/

Galapagos Darwin Foundation: https://www.galapagos.org

Aquarium Fishes of the Galapagos: http://members.tripod.com/mark26/galapogos.html

Hickman, Cleveland P. 1998. A Field Guide to Sea Stars and other Echinoderms of Galapagos. Sugar Springs Press, VA. 83 pp.

Humann, Paul and Ned DeLoach. 1993. Reef Fish Identification, Galapagos. New World Publications, Fla. 226 pp.

Jackson, Michael H. 1993 (2002 printing). Galapagos, A Natural History. Univ. of Calgary Press. 316 pp.

Galapagos, Volker + Christina Hi Bob ( uncle Bob ) , hi Diana, <Hey Volker and Christine, how are you?> many greetings from gold old Hamburg, Germany !! How are you? <Fine my friends> It was a great pleasure to meet you. <And you> We just arrived yesterday and we have enjoyed our time at Galapagos. At our   first dive last Thursday Christina met a lot of hammersharks, I did not  ... There is a picture attached. <Very nice> And you? Were are you staying now? Next trip planed? <We're back home in San Diego, am out to Hawaii next week, Di's coming out there toward the end of the month, then I'm off to the east coast (Boston) in Sept. to give a talk, then we're going to Negril/Jamaica or Bonaire to visit/dive for Di's birthday...> And the picture with all of us is also attached. <Thank you> You want more underwater pictures? See lions, Turtles, Mur?en ( don't now  it in English ), white tipped sharks, rays, etc ... <If they're in focus, please> May be you both will answer ... See you in Hawaii!! Volker + Christina <Looking forward to it. The link showing a bit about the place there: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/holualoaproperty.htm Bob Fenner>

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