Feb 1

We’ve asked conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species that they believe to be overlooked, underappreciated and unloved, and tell us why they think that they deserve a fair share of the limelight, this Valentine’s Day.

Each nominee’s story is featured on the Arkive blog with information on the species, what makes them so special, the conservation organisation that nominated them and how they are working to save them from extinction.

Click the ‘unloved species’ tag above to see all of the nominations and their blogs.

Once you have perused the blogs you can vote for your favourite to help get them into the top ten unloved species and get them the recognition that they truly deserve! Share your favourite with others using the #LoveSpecies hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and tell them why they should vote for them too. Voting closes on February 14th at 23:59 PST (07:59 GMT).

Join us and our conservation partners in celebrating and raising awareness for some of the world’s most unloved species this Valentine’s Day!

Species: Galapagos marine iguana

Nominated by: Galapagos Conservation Trust

Conservation status: Vulnerable on IUCN Red List, two subspecies, found on San Cristobal and Genovesa islands respectively, are classed as Endangered

Why do you love it? Here at GCT we love the marine iguana because it is the only sea-going lizard in the world, making it one of a kind!

They are not very agile on land, but they are excellent swimmers. They go into the sea to feed on the red and green algae. Incredibly, they can dive to nine metres and can hold their breath for half an hour. Their diet contains a lot of salt, which they filter from their blood at their nose, and then they sneeze out the excess salt.

There are six subspecies, each from different islands, and they vary in size. They are a black colour for most of the year, but the males change colour in the breeding season to attract a mate, with the different subspecies turning different colours. The marine iguanas on Espanola Island turn bright red and green, earning them the nickname of Christmas iguana.

They are not really social animals, however when it gets colder, they will pile on top of each other to conserve heat.

What are the threats to the Galapagos marine iguana? Marine iguanas are often predated by cats and dogs, invasive species in the Galapagos Islands. The other main threat the marine iguanas comes from climate events such as El Niño. The rise in ocean temperature depletes the iguanas’ food source, leading to starvation during strong El Niño years. Previous El Niño events have seen up to 85 percent declines in the marine iguana population.

What are you doing to save it? GCT has previously funded projects in Galapagos to conserve the marine iguana populations. Our work has focused on researching the genetic relationships between subspecies, and investigating the impact of feral cats on threatened marine iguana populations. We also continue to support marine conservation projects to protect the Galapagos Marine Reserve, where the iguanas feed.

Find out more about GCT and their work with the Galapagos marine iguana

Discover more lizard and snake species on Arkive




Apr 24

Amongst the black lava rocks that line the wave-lashed edges of the Galapagos Islands, the world’s only sea-going lizard can be found.  Amblyrhynchus cristatus, the marine iguana, is a remarkable and well-known endemic reptile of the Galapagos Archipelago.  Though widespread and highly abundant on certain islands, small, declining and genetically distinct populations on other islands are causing concern for conservationists.  One population in particular, found at the very tip of the easternmost island of San Cristobal has garnered attention not only for its critically small size, but also for being highly distinctive in genetic terms.  This ‘Punta Pitt population’, named after its location, is so genetically distinct that we are investigating whether it deserves recognition as a new species or sub-species.

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A marine iguana at Isla Lobos, San Cristobal Island. Larger males, like this one, swim and dive to forage on sub-tidal algae, whereas smaller individuals graze along the intertidal zone

 Since 2012 we have travelled to San Cristobal each year to collect information and new samples that will teach us more about Punta Pitt iguanas.  Before we started, iguanas on San Cristobal were known from only two colonies which seem not to interbreed with one another.  We began in 2012 by sailing around the island and sampling iguanas wherever we encountered them.  We found and sampled many new colonies, all on the west coast.  The entire eastern side of the island, wild and wave-battered, sadly eluded us.

Processing samples in the field at La Galapaguera, where Punta Pitt type iguanas are found

Processing samples in the field at La Galapaguera, where Punta Pitt type iguanas are found

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Weighing a young iguana at Islotte Pitt

In 2013 we returned to San Cristobal, this time to take a closer look at Punta Pitt and investigate the threat posed by feral cats, known to eat marine iguana hatchlings.  We camped at a remote beach for seven weeks.  During this time we fitted four feral cats with GPS-enabled radio collars and followed their movements.  We also collected measurements, samples and photographs of marine iguanas in order to investigate both physical and genetic differences between iguanas on the island.  Though we were only three people at the camp, we were certainly not lonely; the resident mocking birds, as curious as they are comical, watched our every move.  Constant vigilance was needed to prevent the legion of local hermit crabs from stealing all manner of things, and most evenings provided a cascade of newly hatched green turtles on the dunes, making their way down to the sea.

The resident mocking bird, who assumed ownership of all our things at camp (especially any unguarded porridge)

The resident mocking bird, who assumed ownership of all our things at camp (especially any unguarded porridge)

Frigate birds oversee the dish washing at camp

Frigate birds oversee the dish washing at camp


The finches give our packing boxes a close inspection

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Newly hatched green turtles begin their journey down the dunes to the sea at Salinas beach

We are now in the midst of the final field-season of my PhD.  This season will be shorter, and we intend to find a way to sample the East coast.  This will involve searching for safe landing sites with an experienced fisherman, and a lot of walking along lava rocks.  If we are successful, we will have surveyed and sampled almost the whole island.  Back in Germany, we are working hard to analyse the morphological and genetic data that will tell us whether or not Punta Pitt iguanas are a new species.  In any case, the information we have gathered here in San Cristobal will be a valuable contribution to assessing the conservation status of marine iguanas on this island, where their population is the smallest of any of the Galapagos Islands.


Punta Pitt type iguanas on the headland at Playa Cafe, the white cross is a temporary mark which indicates a sampled iguana

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Amy MacLeod is in the final year of her PhD at the Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany. You can contact her by email at ms.amymacleod@gmail.com


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