I didn’t mean to scream so much. It’s just that I couldn’t see them. Most every rocky shore of the Galapagos islands is home to the marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). In some areas it is not uncommon for the only sea going iguana in the world to be at a density of 4500 iguanas per square mile.
I am not known for my stellar vision and for the life of me I could not spot the little guys no matter how many thousand were around until I nearly was on top of them. Since marine iguanas have very few predators, and I looked nothing like a hawk or heron which find them tasty for lunch, the Galapagos iguana gang did not bother to run when I approached.
My family will shake their head and admit that I let out the most extraordinary gasps, squeals and full out screams when I am surprised. It can happen at the drop of an unexpected leaf on my shoulder. It’s just some weird, and admittedly very noisy, misaligned flight or fight instinct in my brain.
It would do me little good if a Tyrannosaurus Rex was chasing me down. It likely left the poor marine iguanas of the Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos Islands with hearing impairment.
The afternoon of our arrival in these extraordinary islands 906 km (563 mi) off the coast of Ecuador, we wandered to a nearby rocky shore in search of the short blunt-nosed creatures. Unable to tolerate the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean for long periods of time, the marine iguanas alternated between snacking on algae and sunning themselves on the black rocks.
Initially my disappointment ran deep as there was not a sign of a single iguana. Then the reptile deafening squeals began. As I explored like a kid let loose on a field trip hopping from rock to rock, there would be a blast of surprise from my vocal cords followed immediately with a a sincerely apologetic ‘Oh so sorry I didn’t see you there” to the most astoundingly camouflaged creatures.
Over and over the scene of discovery, screaming and apologizing profusely to Mr. and Mrs. Iguana, their offspring and a dozen or so of their friends and family, recurred on the boulder strewn beach.
Doing my utmost not to squash their already flattened, perfect-for-swimming tails by stepping on them, I moved more carefully greeting the masses. Dave suggested possibly I should just sit down and stop hollering so that at least some of the estimated 200,000 to 300,000 total population would be left with auditory function.
Eventually I took my wise husband’s advice and spent my time marveling at these astonishing reptiles. Marine iguanas, I learned later according to the scientific journal Nature, when going hungry not only get thinner but shorter as well. When food becomes plentiful, their length, and width for that matter, returns. This makes them the only known shrinking adult vertebrate in the world.
Here’s hoping if they can regrow in size that their hearing can also make a comeback.
What’s the most interesting animal you have encountered?