Strange New World

Sally Lightfoot crabs (a.k.a. red lava crabs)(Grapsus grapsus) © Stephen C. Quinn/AMNH

Sally Lightfoot crabs (a.k.a. red lava crabs)(Grapsus grapsus)

© Stephen C. Quinn/AMNH


Some of the most extraordinary animals Darwin encountered were those living on isolated islands like the Galápagos. Having lived for generations in a land free from hunters, many had no fear of humans. This made them easy prey. Darwin, who as a student at Cambridge had formed a club dedicated to eating animals "unknown to human palate," cheerfully sampled the iguanas. He concluded, "These lizards, when cooked, yield a white meat, which is liked by those whose stomachs soar above all prejudices."

Many Galápagos animals were as strange as their surroundings, and they tended to blend with the lava around them. A few, though, such as the blue-footed booby and Sally lightfoot crab, had bright coloring; these were typically migrants from the mainland.

Blue-Footed Boobies
Blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii excisa) © Stephen C. Quinn/AMNH

Blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii excisa)

© Stephen C. Quinn/AMNH


Named for a word meaning "foolish person," boobies are known for their complete absence of defensive behavior. Though awkward when walking, blue-footed boobies are swift-flying seabirds that can dive from 80 feet and snatch a flying fish out of mid-air.