species archipelago miles ecuador
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, an archipelago of five larger and ten smaller islands, situated in the Pacific Ocean exactly under the equator, about 500 or 600 miles W. of Ecuador. They were discovered about the beginning of the 16th century by the Spaniards, who gave them their present name from the numerous galdpayo or giant tortoises they found there. The larger members of the group, several of them attaining an elevation of 3000 to 4000 feet, are Albemarle (75 miles long and 15 broad), Narborough, Indefatigable, Chatham, and James Islands. The total area is estimated at 2250 square miles.
The extraordinary number of craters, a few of them still active, "in size from mere spiracles to huge caldrons several miles in circumference," to be found throughout the islands, gives evidence that the archipelago has been the result of volcanic action. It stands in very deep water, and Mr Darwin thinks that it has never been nearer to the mainland than it is now, nor have its members been at any time closer together. None of the islands are inhabited, with the exception of Charles, Chatham, and Albemarle, which, since 1829, have been used by the Government of Ecuador as a penal settlement for political offenders, who find an easy subsistence on the bananas, Indian corn, and sweet potatoes which readily grow in the black fertile mud of the higher parts, and on the large herds, now become wild, of cattle, swine, and goats. The principal settlement, founded by General Vilamil in 1832, is situated in Charles Island, and bears the name of La Floreana, in honour of Floris, the president of Ecuador. At one time it contained 200 or 300 inhabitants ; but when the United States steamer "Hassler" visited the Galapagos in 1871, there were little more than a dozen. In 1872 about 2000 cattle had perished in the island. The archipelago was formerly a frequent resort of vessels in quest of turtle ; and it is still visited by parties from Guayaquil in quest of a species of moss, which is sent to the English market under the name of orchilla.
Though the islands arc under the equator, the climate is not intensely hot, as it is tempered by cold currents from the Antarctic Sea, which, having followed the barren coast of Peru as far as Cape Blanco, bear off t-o the N.W. towards and through the Galapagos. Very little rain falls, 1 except during the short season from November to January. The clouds indeed hang low, and the nights are misty, but this benefits those districts only which attain a height of over 800 or 1000 feet and enter the moist upper air ; so that there alone, and chiefly on the side from which the winds oftenest blow, is there anything like a luxuriant vegetation. The low grounds are entirely parched and rocky, presenting merely a few thickets of Peruvian cactus and stunted shrubs, and a shore as uninviting as it well can be.
The greatest interest attaches to the study of all the oceanic islands, for the elucidation of the origin and development of their fauna and flora has an important bearing on the question of the genesis of species. The Galapagos archipelago possesses in this respect a rare advantage from its isolated situation, and from the fact that its history has never been interfered with by any aborigines of the human race, and that it is only very lately that the operations of man or of animals introduced by his means have disturbed, and that to a very limited extent only, the indigenous life. Many of the more remarkable animal and vegetable forms are confined to one islet of the group, and - become extinct. There are two species, one terrestrial, the other marine, of a peculiar genus of lizard. Nearly all the land birds are peculiar to the archipelago, and of these more than half belong to peculiar genera. The flora of the Galapagos is most remarkable ; it differs by upwards of one half of its species from that of the rest of the globe. Both the fauna and flora indicate affinity with the South American continent ; and the peculiarities of their distribution can be explained only by the supposition that species were transported to the islands by some accident at very rare and remote intervals, and have become changed through natural selection under the new conditions to which they have been exposed. That there should be so few species common to the different islands is accounted for by their separation from each other by deep channels scoured by rapid currents, the direction of which, and of the winds, rarely violent in this region, does not favour inter-migration. Many of the islands are yet but imperfectly known.
For more detailed information the following works may be consulted : - Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle; 0. Salvin, " On the avifauna of the Galapagos Archip.," Trans. Zool. Soc., part ix., 1876, p. 447; Sir J. D. Hooker, "On the Vegetation of the Gal. Arch.," Trans. Lin. Soc., vol. xx. p. 235; Dr A. GiMther, "Description of the living and extinct races of Gigantic Tortoises of the Galapagos Islands," Phil. Trans., vol. clxv. p. 251; A. It. Wallace, Geographical Distribution of Animals; Villaviccncio, Geografia de la Rep. del Ecuador, 1858.