Nature’s newspaper…

I once watched a documentary, I forget which one, that featured a man who lived in the African bush. He made a comment that went along the lines of “People in the city wake up and read a newspaper to find out whats been happening around them, all I have to do is look at the sand around my tent to know about the night’s events.” Sand provides a renewable canvas on which many stories can be told, but being able to read them is a skill that can take many years to master.

The volcanic origins of Galapagos mean that much of the islands’ surface is solid lava rock – not a substrate that footprints can be left in (once it’s cooled down that is!). That’s not to say that you can’t track animals in these areas – it is often possible to see where a prickly pear cactus has been nibbled by a land iguana for example – but if it’s footprints you’re after, a soft substrate such as mud or sand is required.

The beaches in Galapagos are often scattered with tracks from a range of species. Here are images of three of the most common ones to help you identify them…

1. Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)Tracks1

The track is made up of a wavy central line made by the marine iguanas tail and alternating footprints.

2. Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)


A relatively wide track (up to 30 inches across) with a central line made by the turtle’s tail and parallel flipper marks either side made from the turtle’s “butterfly stroke” crawling pattern.

3. Galapagos Giant Tortoise (Chelonoides spp.)


The track is made up of two parallel wavy lines which have footprints at regular intervals. Giant tortoises have five toes at the front of their foot and the impressions of all can often be seen in the footprint. Also seen in the footprint are the grooves between the tortoises scales which may look like the treads on shoes. The track does not have a marking in the centre because tortoises hold their body off the ground when they move.

If you have images of other tracks that you’ve seen in Galapagos, we would love to see them. Email your images to and we will try to identify the species (although there are no guarantees).

Happy tracking everyone!

by Pete Haskell

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