A Naturalist's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos
Smithsonian's Laura Helmuth vacationed in the Galapagos Islands and returned with even more respect for Charles Darwin
- By Laura Helmuth
- Smithsonian.com, January 30, 2009
One of the thrills of visiting the Galapagos is getting up close to animals. Most of the species you encounter evolved there in the absence of predators, in a sort of peaceable kingdom, so they're not particularly concerned when someone takes a picture.
Unfortunately for the giant tortoises, they didn't have any particularly useful defenses against human hunters, who wiped out some populations. (Tortoises can live for many months without food or water, so sailors stored them in ships' holds to eat later.) One of Darwin's inspirations came from an off-hand comment that sailors could tell which island a tortoise came from based on the shape of its carapace.
On islands with dense vegetation, like here in Santa Cruz, tortoises are built like tanks. They can crash through scalesia bushes, munching greenery all the way.