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On my flight to the Galápagos I threw up five times (dry retching after no. 3) which was enough for the passengers on my row to justifiably move away. The next morning, I dragged my frail body across Puerto Ayora to Tortuga Bay, driven by the raw excitement of seeing marine iguanas for the first time – a childhood dream. Although the joy of the experience purged the disease, I still didn’t have an appetite for three days. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise though as I saved a lot of money on food… 

The marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) is endemic to the Galápagos islands. A famously diverse set of islands located 563 miles off the coast of Ecuador. They are the only true marine lizards, specialised in foraging in the sub-tidal and inter-tidal zones. Their diet consists almost exclusively of algae, with two species of red and one green algae making up the majority of the food intake, but there are also reports of iguanas eating sea lion afterbirth

The majestic marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)

Being ectothermic (cold blooded), marine iguanas are constrained in their foraging ability by temperature. The optimal thermal range for a marine iguana is 35-39oC whereas the seas around the Galápagos islands average a chilly 11-23oC. Only around 5% of the marine iguana population forages out at sea, these tend to be the largest individuals and are mostly males. The smaller animals (females, small males and juveniles) stick around in the inter-tidal zone. The iguanas spend a large amount of time basking before and after foraging to maintain body heat in the preferred range. Higher body temperatures increase foraging ability and the rate of digestion of food. They tend to aggregate in big groups and bask together on the beaches and lava rocks, but secretly they’re just trying to get the perfect cover photo for their new album…