Horse and calf casually graze alongside giant Galapagos tortoises
The bizarre and incredibly large turtles of the Galapagos Islands roam freely through the bush and forest on Santa Cruz Island and a few other nearby islands. They are an odd sight that resembles massive army helmets moving slowly and deliberately in their constant search for grass and other vegetation. They are so common that the horses were not worried when some of them grazed in a field that was also grazed by a horse and her foal. Fortunately, the horses chewed only a few feet away from the old animals. And the turtles, which are maybe 200 years old, didn't care about the presence of the other animals either. It is amusing to see how such very different creatures so casually feed next to each other.
The Galapagos Islands are beautiful and indescribably fascinating. Formed as a result of volcanic eruptions under the sea floor, they are relatively new in the history of the earth. Isolated and remote, they were initially lifeless and sterile. However, that changed when plants and animals found their way to the islands and made them their home.
Because the islands are so remote, the evolution of species here has not been influenced by species from other corners of the world. The adaptations required to survive in this harsh climate have increased over time.
One of the best examples of this type of adaptation is the Giant Galapagos Tortoise. It is believed that they descended from the giant tortoises of Africa and first found their way to the Galapagos Islands on rafts of floating vegetation. These trips would take many months and few species would survive such a trip, but the giant tortoises can live for up to a year without food or fresh water.
When the turtles got here, they found there was plenty of food during the rainy season and a shortage during the dry season. This required that they had to reach higher with their long necks to find taller foliage that had not been eaten by smaller animals. Survival now depended on vertical reach, and those with larger indentations in the bowls could stretch their necks further towards the food. The breeding success came for those turtles that were better fed, stronger, bigger and lived longer. And so the cycle went on, forming the chain of events we know today as "evolution" thanks to Charles Darwin, who was heavily influenced by the animals of the Galapagos Islands.
Charles Darwin made his historic visit to these islands aboard HMS Beagle in the 1830s. It is very likely that the same turtles were alive when he entered their home.
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