Lost Worlds where Prehistoric Life still Thrives

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 1/1250s @ f/6.3 ISO 500 @ 400mm

Meet Hector (my name for him).  This was my first glimpse of him as he came up out of the rocks.  Hector was a wild (not captive) Galapagos Land Iguana on Espanola Island, and he was huge (as in humongous).  You can’t tell from the photo, because there’s no point of reference, but Hector was 4 to 5-feet in length and probably weighed in at about 25-pounds. Yeah, he was coming right at me in this photo.  I only got a shot or two, because he was way too close for my 400mm lens after just a step or two.

There is a 2-meter separation rule in the Galapagos (for the protection of the critters?), but Hector wasn’t having any of it.  On he came, one plodding step after another, surprisingly fast.  He threatened to go right between my legs; if he had done so I would have been riding him like a horse (facing backwards towards his tail).  His expression (and attitude) said that this was his island, and that he was the undisputed ruler of his domain.  It was obvious that he had business farther on, and it was equally obvious that I was in his way.   

The dinosaurs may be extinct, but prehistoric life continues to thrive on planet Earth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Galapagos and in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon.  During my three-month stay in Ecuador I was able to visit both locations:  in September 2015 I was in the Amazon, and then in November 2015 I was in the Galapagos (both of these locations were bucket-list destinations for me).

I met one these prehistoric creatures, the Galapagos Land Iguana, up close and personal on Espanola Island (see above photo).  These are really big-ass lizards, with lengths reaching 5-feet and weighing in at over 25-pounds.  The only lizards bigger (that I know of) are the huge Komodo Dragon monitor lizards of Indonesia.  The Galapagos Land Iguanas are primarily herbivorous, but can be opportunistic carnivores (that’s what worried me, the opportunistic meat-eater part); actually they’re quite safe and pose no threat to visitors (I think).

Their food of choice is the abundant prickly pear cactus which makes up about 80% of their diet, and provides most of their moisture as well.  It is currently estimated that the Galapagos is home to some 5,000 to 10,000 iguanas spread out over several different islands.  I saw a ton of them during my visit, and they show absolutely no fear of man whatsoever.  There are very distinct differences between the land iguanas and the marine iguanas of the Galapagos, and visiting the islands you will see plenty of each species (and if you’re a photographer you will be in paradise).

These creatures are truly prehistoric, sharing the oldest reptilian sex chromosome, and date back to a common ancestor in the Cretaceous Period, roughly 140-million years ago.  Age-wise they rank right up there with the shark, crocodile and cockroach.  They look really old too, and in the Sci-fi movies of the 1950s they used them to replicate living dinosaurs (especially in the fight scenes), now it’s all computer generated of course.

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1/1250s @ f/6.3 ISO 500 @ 400mm

So Hector marched up to me, through me, and finally beyond me.  It was a great experience all-in-all, and even though the 2-meter separation rule was technically violated (not my fault) it all turned out okay.  For clarification purposes, I will mention here that my wilderness guide Alfonso witnessed the whole encounter from beginning to end and never felt the need to intervene (although he did chuckle at my predicament).  It turns out that Hector was only navigating to his morning perch (his throne), to spend some quality time surveying his realm in peace and solitude (as a solitary male myself, I can fully appreciate his wishes). As my visit to the islands continued I saw literally thousands of iguanas, both land and marine, but Hector will remain special.

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer and World Traveler

Huaraz, Peru

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