Sep 20, 2010

The Galapagos

Exploring Darwin's Tapestry
by John Hess

This is a beautiful, beautiful book. John Hess combines gorgeous photography with lyrical words to bring the reader into an exotic, far-off place: the Galapagos islands. He describes their delicacy and harshness (I didn't know before that the islands were largely a desert environment). He talks about how the few endemic animal species have evolved specifically to survive there; mostly birds. There are only a scattering of reptiles there and no native mammals at all (unless you count ones that live mainly offshore, like the sea lions). I didn't know that penguins and flamingos live in the Galapagos, as well as some more-familiar birds like the great blue heron. The first part of the book describes the different habitats on and around the islands: the margin where the sea meets land, the dry desert areas, the upland daisy forests that get more precipitation. Many different species are mentioned in those sections, but in the later half of the book an individual chapter is dedicated to each of the seven Hess calls the "Galapagos royalty." They are the flightless cormorant, marine iguana, waved albatross, frigatebirds, Galapagos tortoise, three kinds of boobies and the swallow-tailed gull. I learned so much about these interesting and beautiful animals. Did you know that marine iguanas sneeze salt out of their bodies? that the swallow-tailed gull is the only seagull to fly and hunt at night (it eats fish and squid that glow in the dark)? that a pair of waved albatrosses will engage in courtship dances for several years before they raise their first chick together? Of course there is a lot of reflection in these pages on the evolutionary design of these animals, threats to their survival, and protective measures which have already shown signs of promise- tortoises are reared in safe enclosures until big enough to be safe from rats; invasive goats and other domestics have been eradicated from several of the islands. But Hess also tells stories about some of the animals, like a legend about how the cormorant lost its power of flight, which makes The Galapagos an even more engaging read. I really enjoyed the mix of inspired myth and factual science, all enhanced by beauty.

Found on a library shelf and borrowed.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 188 pages, 2009 pages


  1. This sounds remarkable!

  2. Oh! This sounds lovely!

  3. Wow...this sounds like an incredibly beautiful book! I think my husband will definitely be finding this one under the tree this Christmas. (And then, of course, I can borrow it.)

  4. They have penguins there? Neat! I love penguins!


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