The Galápagos Islands are a chain of islands, or archipelago, in the eastern Pacific Ocean. They are part of the country of Ecuador, in South America. The Galápagos lie about 966 kilometers (600 miles) off of the Ecuadorian coast

There are thirteen major islands and a handful of smaller islands that make up the Galápagos archipelago. The largest of the islands is called Isabela. It is approximately 129 kilometers (80 miles) long. Repeated volcanic eruptions helped to form the rugged mountain landscape of the Galápagos Islands. 

The Galápagos are best known for their diverse array of plant and animal species. Many species are endemic, which means they are not found anywhere else in the world. These include the giant Galápagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra), the marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), the flightless cormorant (Phalacrocoraz harrisi), and the Galápagos penguin. The Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) is the only penguin species to live in the Northern Hemisphere.

Environmental conditions make the Galápagos a unique island ecosystem. The Galápagos Islands are located near the equator, yet they receive cool ocean currents. This makes for a strange mix of tropical and temperate climates. For most of their history, the islands have been extremely isolated. This combination of factors created a laboratory for the evolution of an unusual mix of plant and animal species.

Scientists have studied this complex ecosystem for more than 180 years. British naturalist Charles Darwin may be the most influential scientist to have visited the Galápagos Islands. Darwin first came to the Galápagos in 1835, on a ship called the HMS Beagle. His observations of wildlife on the island inspired his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Today, scientists study the archipelago’s aquatic ecosystems as well. For example, marine ecologist Salome Ursula Burglass works to identify and describe the plant and animal species living on and around the underwater, deep-sea volcanoes, or seamounts, in the Galápagos.

 

Galápagos Islands

The marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) is the only iguana known to swim in the ocean

aquatic
Adjective

having to do with water.

Noun

a group of closely scattered islands in a large body of water.

Noun

(1809-1882) British naturalist.

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

diverse
Adjective

varied or having many different types.

ecologist
Noun

scientist who studies the relationships between organisms and their environments.

ecologist
Noun

scientist who studies the relationships between organisms and their environments.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

endemic
Adjective

native to a specific geographic space.

evolution
Noun

change in heritable traits of a population over time.

isolated
Adjective

alone or separated from others.

marine
Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

marine
Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

naturalist
Noun

person who studies the natural history or natural development of organisms and the environment.

Noun

process by which organisms that are better -adapted to their environments produce more offspring to transmit their genetic characteristics.

seamount
Noun

underwater mountain.

species
Noun

group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

temperate
Adjective

moderate.

tropical
Adjective

existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

Noun

an opening in the Earth's crust, through which lava, ash, and gases erupt, and also the cone built by eruptions.