Marin Iguanas: Godzilla’s Galapagos lizards

The marine iguanas of the Galapagos Islands are the only ocean-swimming lizards in the world. And if you happen to swim alongside these creatures, you’ll notice how much they look alike to Godzilla. They are powerful swimmers, and with one breath, they can dive as deep as 98 feet below the surface of the sea and spend up to an hour underwater.

Why are marine iguanas the inspiration for Godzilla?

Marin Iguanas: Godzilla's Galapagos lizards
Marine Iguana

Their little dragon-like features include a row of spines running from the back of their neck, all the way down their backs to their tails. The scales on top of their heads are conical and pointed, and they have short, stout limbs and stocky bodies. Their lengths usually range from 4.7 to 22 inches, and they weigh a maximum of 26 pounds. Its size largely depends on the amount of food available on the island.

Marin Iguanas: Godzilla's Galapagos lizards
Marine iguana underwater

Marine iguanas are gentle herbivores that feed on green and red algae found in the waters of the Galapagos Islands. Large males dive into the sea to feed on algae that grow on rocks on the sea floor. However, the females and the young are exposed to less risk and mainly feed on the algae available on exposed rocks during tidal changes.

Marine iguanas shrink in size to survive due to scarcity of food.

Marin Iguanas: Godzilla's Galapagos lizards
Marine Iguana feeding on underwater algae

On the island, food is scarce, and their only source is sometimes the underwater algae and seaweed. Their dependence on water also makes them vulnerable to changes caused by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which brings warmer waters to the Galapagos Islands. This, in turn, leads to the disappearance of the red and green algae on which these organisms live. This often causes them to starve to death with the larger iguana being the most vulnerable. To combat this, they do the unthinkable. They shrink in size and length, just to survive. Scientists speculate that their bones are shortening by 20% and that they are resorbing their bones. Once the water starts to cool off, their bodies begin to grow again!

Marine iguanas sneeze salt from special glands.

Marin Iguanas: Godzilla's Galapagos lizards
Marine Iguana Sneezing salt

One interesting feature of marine iguanas is their specially adapted glands to clean up the extra salt they ingest while in the ocean. They regularly “sneeze” the salt out of their nose and excrete the salt out of their bodies. This salt often falls on their heads, resulting in a white deposit.

Marin Iguanas: Godzilla's Galapagos lizards
Christmas iguana

They differ in appearance among the different islands. Despite being black for most of the year, the males change colors during the mating season with each subspecies adapting to different colors. On Santa Cruz Island, they turn red and black, while on the islands of Hispaniola and Floriana, they turn bright red and green, and are called the Christmas iguana. Their colors come from pigmentation digested from eating ocean algae.

There is a correlation between iguanas and lava lizards.

Marin Iguanas: Godzilla's Galapagos lizards
Marine iguana mutualistic relationship with lava lizard.

On rocky shores, marine iguanas have a mutualistic relationship with lava lizards that scurry on them to catch flies. The iguana allowed them to survive and relied on them to get rid of the flies. Lava lizards get their own food, and lizards can bask in the sun calmly.

It is considered endangered and protected in Ecuador. Predators on the islands, such as feral cats and dogs, and natural predators, such as racing snakes, feed on their eggs and babies. Despite their amazing adaptability, their anti-predation strategies have yet to be developed.

So, if you happen to visit Galapagos National Park anytime soon, be careful not to disturb the marine iguanas and get too close to them. It may be hard to look at them, but in reality, they will be afraid of you.


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