The Galapagos Islands – a small archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its volcanic origins, predominant sparse vegetation, and the extreme climatic conditions from the Tropics make survival a real challenge.
Despite all these circumstances, these islands are in fact home to many of our planet’s most unusual creatures. The English naturalist Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution by observing them. We know today why there are so many odd animals on the Galapagos Islands and that they did not certainly come voluntarily: most are actually shipwrecked or stranded by storms or strong ocean currents.
On this way, the Humboldt Current brought penguins to the Galapagos from Antarctica. In order to survive on these islands, the tuxedo-wearers managed to modify their bodies over the millennia. The Galapagos penguin is not currently just the only penguin capable of surviving in the Tropics; it is also the smallest penguin on earth. Barely larger than a duck, it is only through this miniaturization that it has been able to withstand the tropical temperatures.
A similar evolutionary masterstroke has been witnessed with the Galapagos cormorant: While other cormorants often fly long distances to find fish, their Galapagos counterpart has lost this skill completely. Not only because it has food right on its doorstep in the Galapagos, but especially because it hasn’t any predators from which it needs to flee. Today, the Galapagos cormorant just has short, stubby wings, completely useless for flying. However, everything happens for a reason: its lack of wings makes it extremely streamlined underwater. It has also grown increasingly strong and large, enabling it to dive deeper and longer for fish. The Galapagos cormorant is now the world’s largest cormorant.
Almost all inhabitants of the Galapagos have undergone similar physical adaptations. In most cases, however, this was not enough. Behavioral adaptations were another major step towards the success of the volcanic islands, and there isn’t any other animal that can show it better than the vampire finch. It is found only on the remote Darwin and Wolf islands. More than one hundred kilometers from the rest of the archipelago, these mini isles have no water and hardly any food. The finches had to be creative: Using their scalpel-shaped beak, they pierce the skin around the quills of the Nazca booby and drink its blood. They do this so carefully and skilfully that their victims don’t even run away. Only in some cases, particularly when there are too many thirsty finches, it does become a frenzy of bloodlust.
Most of the inhabitants on the islands have adapted so much to these conditions that they wouldn’t be able to survive anywhere else. Life on the Galapagos is a dichotomy for them: Sometimes it’s like heaven and others like hell.