Readers’ wildlife photographs

May 28, 2015 • 7:45 am

Today we have an odd combination: Galápagos iguanas and squirrels. First the iguanas, from reader Kris Rossing, who is too humble about these lovely photos.

I am a practicing biologist and longtime reader. I greatly enjoy your website and find the community of regular commentators extremely thoughtful and respectful. I particularly enjoy the user submitted photos. It is clear that some readers have exceptional skill, transforming the mundane into magic; the trivial into transcendent.
As such, I’ve been nervous about posting these, but as I have yet to see pictures from the Galapagos [JAC: we have more coming from another reader soon], I hope that these images will still be enjoyable to the avid biologists among your readers. I thought I’d start by submitting some photos of one of the Galapagos’ most iconic species.
Our trip was during the first two weeks of October, at the onset of the breeding season of the marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). As the warm currents hit eastern-most San Cristobel first, the males on this island were beginning to don their full mating regalia, resplendent in green and red. This male eventually decided we were close enough and began his iconic head-bobbing dance, proclaiming his dominance of that particular rock for all to see.
Amblyrhynchus cristatus (Marine Iguana) 01
Further west, on Isabella, we encountered what the locals called a nursery; a huge and isolated tract of rocky shoreline occupied almost exclusively by the young. This photo was taken in the morning, as they bask to gain energy for the trials of the day ahead. As much as the lifestyle looks easy now, anyone familiar with their exclusive dietary habit is already cringing at the thought of plunging into the surprisingly cold waters below.
Amblyrhynchus cristatus (Marine Iguana) 02
After they gorge on algae, they haul themselves back on land to digest and warm up. We caught this fellow (first photo) on his way to a power-nap party among the mangroves (second photo).
Amblyrhynchus cristatus (Marine Iguana) 03
Amblyrhynchus cristatus (Marine Iguana) 04
Later in the evening we encountered this beast of a male. His mating colours are only just barely beginning to show, but he was easily the largest iguana we saw on our trip. He didn’t even flinch as I approached for the money shot (second photo). I can’t help but feel that the orc race of many fantasy worlds must have been modeled on this amazing animal. His salt-encrusted scales are simply striking.
Amblyrhynchus cristatus (Marine Iguana) 06
Amblyrhynchus cristatus (Marine Iguana) 05
To any readers who have ever considered going, I say “Do it!”. There will be precious few experiences in life that can top sharing a sunset on the beach with a marine iguana sitting on a log only a few inches away.
JAC: I fully agree with Kris. When I went to the Galápagos (as a lecturer on a wonderful Lindblad cruise), I thought I knew all about the islands and their inhabitants, and, as a jaded biologist, that I would be intrigued but not stunned. But I was stunned. It’s one thing to read about these animals from afar, another entirely to see them in the flesh, fur, and feathers. It’s simply astounding to step onto barren, black, and dry lava islands teeming with life: dancing blue-footed boobies, iguanas so thick on the ground that you must avoid stepping on them, sea lion pups so friendly they will waddle into your lap, the weirdly primeval giant tortoises, and finches so tame they will alight on a stick held in your hand. Not to mention the Galápagos penguins and the sea turtles (I once swam with both, including sea lions). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that both evolution mavens and anyone who loves animals (or lovely landscapes) must have. There’s nothing I’ve seen to compare.

Reader Jason from Canada sent some odd but beautiful squirrels. Canada seems full of black and weird-colored squirrels (the Parliament grounds in Ottawa is full of black ones); I wonder why.

Here is a black squirrel with a blonde tail in Grange Park,Toronto (1 block north of City TV/Much Music HQ). We also had an albino squirrel in Trinity-Bellwoods Park which unfortunately died last year (down the street from the park there is a road “White Squirrel Way” that leads into the CAMH facility. We also have red squirrels in High Park and a few of the other forest areas of the city. The majority of squirrels are black and grey and a lot have different colour variations.




23 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. Sleepy iguana looks cute! I really like these tubby guys, especially when you see images of them eating seaweed.

    I think that squirrel has more a reddish coloured bum and tail.

  2. I live in Ottawa and the black squirrels outnumber the grey squirrels by a wide margin. I wasn’t aware that the black version is more interesting than the grey version from a biological point of view. Growing up I was much more excited by the grey version. Probably for the same reason the orange popsicle is no one’s favorite.

  3. Nice photos! I particularly like the salty iguana portrait (very noble looking) and the blonde-tailed squirrel standing up. I’ve never seen one of those before.

  4. That grand-old iguana is definitely a Beast. But he carries a certain air of dignity as well.

    I think that black & tan squirrel might be the most handsome squirrel I’ve seen. For some reason I’m thirsty now.

    1. PCC has previously commented on the Parliament Hill cats. Unfortunately for cats and their cat castle are no more. They were removed a while back. The area they were located in is now a construction zone. The cat castle disappeared long before the construction started.

  5. The present hypothesis is that black-morph grey squirrels fare better in a cooler climate ie the northern extent of their range, as they can absorb sunlight on sunny winter days. Squirrels are not hunted in Ontario, so the selective pressure to blend in is not as strong as it is south of the border.

  6. Great pictures. And Kris, these are really interesting. That last iquana picture is quintessential.

  7. I see that the red tailed sqrrll has blonde highlights in its tail! That is one diva of a squirrel.

  8. I think it’s delightfully ironic that evolutionary biologists flock to the Galapagos (I haven’t been there, but I hope to some day!). By his own account, Darwin apparently thought the place was pretty dreadful!

  9. I remember going to Ottawa (where I now live) as a child from Montreal and being astonished by the black squirrels. They showed up in Montreal within a decade. I don’t know where they originated, or what the “first squirrels” had as colour, etc.

  10. I will add my appreciation for the Galápagos. I saw the islands from underneath as well as on top. We went aboard the Aggressor III.

    We dove off 5 islands, saw 5 species of shark including hammer heads, and whale sharks. It’s a very unique dive environment. Not to be missed!

  11. Exploring the various isles of the Galápagos Archipelago is, indeed, stunning and not to be missed.

    There by the grace of i) savings and ii) enough leave from work went I June y2010, from my first hearing about a possible escape to it (@ a block party throwing back a hard lemonade that specific month’s first Sunday evening) … … to … … on the plane from Des Moines to Quito to Guayaquil within eight days’ time total. IF from the United States (I do not know re other countries’ requirements by Ecuador), one will want to have a passport of at least over six months out from its expiration date, the requirement of USA citizens by the Galápagos Archipelago’s governing body which is Ecuador.

    Then, for USA citizens at least, it is soooo, so simply lovely to accomplish this: no special immunizations at all are required. Currency exchange isn’t — cuz Ecuador’s / Galápagan currency .is. the dollar and no other. Time zone change isn’t much either: Quito and Guayaquil are Eastern / the Archipelago is Central. One may want to have along white / light – colored long sleeves and wide brims as well as antiemetics (if using the speedboat method of travel among the isles out from one’s hosteling at one or two isles’ worth of its hotels). Otherwise, explorations are available at where one is on board a vessel upon which s(h)e sleeps at night — during when the ship / ferry moves between and among the next of its very many isles. I happen to recommend the latter type of method cuz of the time savings involved — that is, more time on the actual isle itself than only upon the water.

    As was encouragingly so stated, “Do it!”

    1. Further — if one does a winter escape there as June on the equator is? NO insects. NOT one mosquito in nine days’ time did I encounter.

      Two local guides shared with me that were I to have up and run away there in, say, December or January, the wintertime of us Northern Hemisphere folks, then that is all which one may experience every day: massive numbers of insects about one’s head and face at times.

      Others’ take on that particular aspect?


    2. Oh. One caution. Do be careful about eating raw fruit and stuff at the inevitable tropical fruit bar at the hotel. There are micro organisms North Americans, and maybe others, are intolerant of.

  12. The blond-tailed squirrel is very interesting, and reminds me of some of the mouse variants at the agouti locus. For example, there’s the agouti viable yellow spontaneous allele, with details available at the Mouse Genome Informatics/Jackson Labs website:

    agouti viable yellow

    (Apologies if my novice HTML doesn’t work). If you click on the phenotype image for Avy/a mice at the linked page, you can see the range of coat color patterns for this genotype.

  13. A visit to the Galapagos is indeed special (I’ve been twice) but the islands in the Sea of Cortez are almost as special. Even better, take one of the trips that does the Sea of Cortez, then continues around to the whale calving lagoons on the Pacific Side of Baja (also offered by Lindblad).

  14. Love the iguana pictures, especially the last 2 shots! The expression on that male’s face is creepy and cute at the same time.

    Gorgeous squirrels!

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