The Galapagos Islands are a group of volcanic islands which lay in the Pacific Ocean close to the Equator line. The Galapagos Islands nearest mainland, Ecuador, lies 600 miles (970 kilometres) to the East. The Galapagos archipelago, with a population of around 30,000, is a province of Ecuador, a country in northwestern South America, and the islands are all part of Ecuadors national park system. The main language on the islands is Spanish.
Galapagos consists of 13 main islands, 6 smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets (a small island). The islands first appeared on maps in about 1570 in those drawn by Abraham Ortelius (a cartographer (map maker) and geographer, generally recognised as the creator of the first modern atlas) and Mercator (a Flemish cartographer). The islands were called 'Insulae de los Galopegos' (Islands of the Tortoises).
The Galapagos Islands were made famous as the islands that formed Charles Darwin's theory of evolution after his exploration in HMS Beagle in 1835.
The Galapagos archipelago has been known by many different names, including the 'Enchanted Islands' because of the way in which the strong and swift currents made navigation difficult.
The term 'Galápagos' refers to the Spanish name given to the Giant Land Tortoises known to inhabit the islands.
The Galapagos Islands are a living laboratory where most of the animals and birds have no fear of man. The isles are mainly well known for their wildlife, flightless birds, giant reptiles and wild plant life which play a major part in the earths ecosystem. Many say that these islands are a bird-watchers paradise.
The endemic (unique) flightless birds are so human-fearless, they can be approached very closely and will not retreat away from you, something you will not find anywhere else.
Another unique attraction on the islands, are the giant tortoises, the giant tortoise is also the islands icon, used on souvenirs, stamps and the National Park logo.
One of the most amazing things about the climate of the islands is, although the islands are tropical and warm, the surrounding ocean can be extremely cold.
The plant life of Galapagos is just as extraordinary as its wildlife, although it has received less attention and publicity. There are many threats facing the vegetation, however, and world attention is currently focussed on raising funds for botany campaigns to safeguard endangered species and control the many invasive plants introduced to the islands by humans.
Read more about the Galapagos climate here!
Click the sign to see a map of the Galapagos Isles and some island geology!
Click the sign to find out about the oceanthat surrounds the islands!
Click the sign to find out about the historyof the Galapagos islands!
Click the sign to find out about the amazing flora on the Galapagos islands!
European discovery of the Galápagos Islands occurred when Dominican Fray Tomás de Berlanga, the fourth Bishop of Panama, sailed to Peru to settle a dispute between Francisco Pizarro (a Spanish soldier) and his lieutenants. De Berlanga's vessel drifted off course when the winds diminished and his party reached the islands on March 10, 1535. According to a 1956 study by Thor Heyerdahl (a Norwegian writer and adventurer) and Arne Skjølsvold (writer), remains of potsherds and other artifacts from several sites on the islands suggest visitation by South American peoples prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
The islands first appeared on maps in about 1570 in those drawn by Abraham Ortelius (geographer and map maker) and Mercator (Flemish map maker). The islands were called 'Insulae de los Galopegos' (Islands of theTortoises).
The first English captain to visit the Galápagos Islands was Richard Hawkins (a 17th century English seaman), in 1593. Until the early 19th century, the archipelago was often used as a hideout by mostly English pirates who pilfered Spanish galleons carrying gold and silver from South America to Spain.
Alexander Selkirk (a Scottish sailor), whose adventures in Juan Fernández Islands (island group reliant on tourism in the South Pacific Ocean) inspired Daniel Defoe (a British writer, journalist, and spy) to write Robinson Crusoe, visited the Galápagos in 1708 after he was picked up from Juan Fernández by the privateer Woodes Rogers. Rogers was refitting his ships in the islands after sacking Guayaquil (the largest and the most populous city in Ecuador).
The first scientific mission to the Galápagos arrived in 1790 under the leadership of Alessandro Malaspina (an Italian-Spanish naval officer and explorer), whose expedition was sponsored by the King of Spain. However, the records of the expedition were lost.
In 1793, James Colnett made a description of the flora and fauna of Galápagos and suggested that the islands could be used as base for the whalers operating in the Pacific Ocean. He also drew the first accurate navigation charts of the islands. Whalers killed and captured thousands of the Galápagos tortoises to extract their fat.
The tortoises could also be kept on board ship as a means of providing of fresh protein as these animals could survive for several months on board without any food or water. The hunting of the tortoises was responsible for greatly diminishing, and in some cases eliminating, certain species. Along with whalers came the fur-seal hunters who brought the population of this animal close to extinction.
Ecuador annexed the Galápagos Islands on February 12, 1832, naming it Archipelago of Ecuador. This was a new name that added to several names that had been, and are still, used to refer to the archipelago. The first governor of Galápagos, General José de Villamil, brought a group of convicts to populate the island of Floreana and in October 1832 some artisans and farmers joined.
The voyage of the Beagle brought the survey ship HMS Beagle under captain Robert Fitzroy to the Galápagos on September 15, 1835 to survey approaches to harbours.
The captain and others on board including his companion the young naturalist Charles Darwin made a scientific study of geology and biology on four of the thirteen islands before they left on October 20 to continue on their round-the-world expedition.
Darwin noticed that the Finches differed between islands and the governor of the prison colony on Charles Island told him that tortoises differed from island to island. Towards the end of the voyage Darwin speculated that these facts might undermine the stability of Species. When specimens of birds were analysed on his return to England it was found that many apparently different kinds of birds were species of finches which were also unique to islands. These facts were crucial in Darwin's development of his theory of natural selection (the process by which favourable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms) explaining evolution, which was presented in 'The Origin of Species' (a seminal work in scientific literature).
José Valdizán and Manuel Julián Cobos tried a new colonization, beginning the exploitation of a type of lichen found in the islands (Roccella portentosa) used as a colouring agent. After the assassination of Valdizán by some of his workers, Cobos brought from the continent a group of more than a hundred workers to San Cristóbal island and tried his luck at planting sugar cane. He ruled in his plantation with an iron hand which lead to his assassination in 1904. Since 1897 Antonio Gil began another plantation in Isabela island.
Over the course of a whole year, from September 1904, an expedition of the Academy of Sciences of California, led by Rollo Beck, stayed in the Galápagos collecting scientific material on geology, entomology, ornithology, botany, zoology and herpetology. Another expedition from that Academy was done in 1932 (Templeton Crocker Expedition) to collect insects, fish, shells, fossils, birds and plants.
During WWII Ecuador authorized the United States to establish a naval base in Baltra island and radar stations in other strategic locations.
In 1946 a penal colony was established in Isabela Island, but was suspended in 1959.
In 1959, on the one hundreth anniversary of publication of 'The Origin of Species', the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands was incorporated in Belgium. It began operations in the islands in 1960 and inaugurated the Charles Darwin Research Station in 1964. With that, some of the damage began to be reversed.
In 1965, the research station began a program of collecting tortoise eggs and bringing them to the research station where they would be hatched and raised to an age where they had a reasonable chance for survival. They were then returned to their native islands. This occurred just in time to save the Espanola race of tortoises from extinction (only 11 females and 2 males remained of the Espanola race). Declines in the populations of other races were reversed. Later, a similar program was initiated for land iguanas.
The Hawaiian Petrel was also close to extinction. Its breeding sites were protected and the population is increasing. Also in 1959, the the Galapagos were declared a National Park by the government of Ecuador. It was not until 1968, however, that the boundaries of the park, which include 95% of the land in the islands, and a park service were established. Later, the ocean surrounding the islands was declared a Marine Reserve and placed under the park's jurisdiction as well. Goats were eradicated from several islands.
Organized tourism began in 1970, when 1000 tourists visited the islands. Tourism has grown to an estimated 60,000 visitors annually in the 1990's. The impact of this on the islands has been kept to a minimum by implimentation of very tight controls and regulation of tour operators. Tourists eat and sleep on tour boats and are allowed to come ashore only in designated areas, and then only under the supervision of licensed guides.
Welcome to the Farm at Animal Corner
In this section of Animal Corner we are featuring just some of the animals that reside on the farm. You can find lots of interesting animal information about your favourite farm animals. You can discover and learn what life is like on the farm for sheep, pigs, cows, goats, ducks, llamas, chickens and horses.
Farm animals are bred for many purposes. Chickens give us our eggs, Cows and Goats provide us with nutritious milk. Different breeds of sheep produce many kinds of wool fibres which are made into clothing. Pigs provide us with bacon and pork and Ducks become a succulent duck roast. Horses are used as working animals, sports and leisure activities.
However, all these animals are not just there to provide us with materials, aid and provisions, they also make wonderful pets which give us years of pleasure and devotion. Some of them even look after other animals you may have, just like the adorable Llamas!
Chickens are domesticated birds that cannot fly. With over 150 breeds in the world that come in lots of colours and patterns, there are probably more chickens than people.
Cows are raised for many reasons including: milk, cheese, other dairy products, also for meat such as beef and veal and leather hide. In older times they were work animals.
Ducks are birds. They are also called 'Waterfowls' because they are normally found in places where there is water like ponds, streams and rivers where they swim with their webbed feet!
Goats are amazing animals. They are tough and versatile and have more uses than you could ever imagine. They can survive and thrive just about anywhere.
Horses belong to the equus family. Equus comes from the ancient Greek word meaning quickness. Horses are mammals in the same family as zebras, mules and donkeys. Horses are used for many things including trekking, sports and work.
The llama is a large camelid that originated in North America and then later on moved on to South America. They are tame animals and make brilliant pets. They will even look after your other animals!
Pigs have a trait of looking like they walk on tip-toes. They are actually clean animals who roll in mud to keep cool. Click on the picture to find out why!
Sheep are docile animals, very timid but also very interesting. They are grazing animals and an important part of livestock. Sheep can be kept as pets or bred for wool and meat.
Domestic sheep (Ovis aries) are quadrupedal, ruminant mammals kept as livestock. Like all ruminants, sheep are even-toed ungulates, also commonly called cloven-hoofed animals. Although the name 'sheep' applies to many species, in everyday usage it almost always refers to Ovis aries. Domestic sheep are the most numerous species in their genus and are most likely descended from the wild mouflon of Europe and Asia. Today, there are about one billion sheep on the planet and around 900 different breeds, many of these sub-classable.
Female sheep are called Ewes. Intact males are called Rams. Castrated males are called Wethers. Year old sheep are called Hoggets. Baby sheep are called Lambs A group of sheep is referred to as a mob or a flock.
Different breeds of sheep are bred for particular purposes such as wool and meat. Others are bred for their different types of milk. Some breeds produce thicker milk which is ideal for making ice cream.
Sheep are also kept as pets. Sheep are docile animals, timid and sometimes, plain stupid! However, they are very interesting animals that make wonderful pets for people all over the world. Sheep require different care and housing than usual pets, however, they still need the same love and attention.
Domestic sheep are relatively small ruminants, typically with horns forming a lateral spiral and crimped hair called wool. A sheep is an animal which has a thick coat of fleece on its body. Another trait unique to sheep are their wide variation in colour. Wild sheep are largely variations of brown hues. Colours of domestic sheep range from pure white to dark chocolate brown and even spotted or piebald. Selection for easily dyeable white fleeces began early in sheep domestication and as white wool is a dominant trait it spread quickly. However, coloured sheep do appear in many modern breeds and may even appear as a recessive trait in white flocks.
Depending on breed, sheep show a range of heights and weights. Their rate of growth and mature weight is often selected for in breeding. Ewes typically weigh between 100 and 225 pounds (45 – 100 kg), with the larger rams between 100 and 350 pounds (45 – 160 kg). Mature sheep have 32 teeth. As with other ruminants, the eight incisors are in the lower jaw and bite against a hard, toothless pad in the upper jaw, picking off vegetation. Sheep have no canines, instead there is a large gap instead between the incisors and the premolars. Until the age of four (when all the adult teeth have erupted), it is possible to see the age of sheep from their front teeth, as a pair of incisors erupts each year.
The front teeth are gradually lost as sheep age, making it harder for them to feed and hindering the health and productivity of the animal. For this reason, domestic sheep on normal pasture begin to slowly decline from four years on and the average life expectancy of a sheep is 10 to 12 years, though some sheep may live as long as 20 years. Sheep have good hearing and are sensitive to noise when being handled. Sheep have horizontal slit-shaped pupils, possessing excellent peripheral vision.
Sheep also have an excellent sense of smell and like all species of their genus, have scent glands just in front of the eyes and interdigitally on the feet. The purpose of these glands is uncertain, however, those on the face may be used in breeding behaviours. The interdigital glands might also be used in reproduction, however, alternative reasons, such as secretion of a waste product or a scent marker to help lost sheep find their flock, have also been proposed.
The sheep should not be confused with the goat. Sheep are different in many ways. Visual differences between sheep and goats include the beard and divided upper lip unique to goats. Sheep tails also hang down, even when short or docked, while the tails of goats are held upwards. Sheep breeds are also often naturally polled (either in both sexes or just in the female), while naturally polled goats are rare (though many are polled artificially). Males of the two species differ in that buck goats acquire a unique and strong odour during the rut, whereas rams do not.
Sheep exhibit a strong flocking behaviour. Sheep do not like to be alone, that is why the flock together in large or small groups.
In a flock of grazing sheep there is little or no sign of dominance. In small domestic flocks, sheep will compete for small amounts of food by pushing and shoving rather than active bunting. Flocking behaviour is an advantage to non-predatory animals. The strongest animals fight their way to the centre of the flock which offers them greater protection from predators. It can also be a disadvantage when food sources are limited and sheep are almost as prone to overgrazing a pasture as goats.
Different sheep breeds have different flocking structures for example:
- Merinos are a tightly knit flock and very rarely form sub-groups. They graze close to each other and disperse into sub-groups only under extreme food shortage, when gender and age groups segregate out.
- Southdowns usually form a few sub-groups and are closely associated when grazing, but not when camping.
- Dorset Horns always form many sub-groups.
Flocking behaviours in English breeds of sheep can be prevalent. Because these behaviours are very noticeable, sheep breeders have even given them names. A sheep that roams away from the flock is called an 'Outlier'. This sheep will venture away from the safety of the flock to graze elsewhere. This is probably because it has a weakness that prevents it from gaining enough forage when with the other sheep.
Another sheep, the 'Bellwether', leads the others. Traditionally this was a castrated Ram (or wether) with a bell hung off a string around its neck. The tendency to act as an outlier, bellwether or to fight for the middle of the flock stays with sheep throughout their adulthood.
Sheep Diet and Digestion
Grazing is a social behaviour like sheltering and camping. Sheep tend to have two main grazing periods, during the early morning and again late in the afternoon. The early morning grazing time tends to be a lesser active grazing time than the later period. Grazing time in total can last from 5 - 10 hours per day depending on breed of sheep and available pasture and water.
Sheep are exclusively herbivorous mammals. Like all ruminants, sheep have a complex digestive system composed of four chambers, allowing them to break down cellulose from stems, leaves and seed hulls into simpler carbohydrates. When sheep graze, vegetation is chewed into a mass called a bolus, which is then passed into the first chamber: the rumen. The bolus is periodically regurgitated back to the mouth as cud for additional chewing and salivation. Cud chewing is an adaptation allowing ruminants to graze more quickly in the morning and then fully chew and digest feed later in the day. This is beneficial as grazing, which requires lowering the head, leaves sheep vulnerable to predators, while cud chewing does not.
During fermentation, the rumen produces gas that must be expelled. After fermentation in the rumen, food passes in to the reticulum and the omasum, special feeds such as grains may bypass the rumen altogether. Following the first three chambers, food moves in to the abomasum for final digestion before processing by the intestines. The abomasum is the only one of the three chambers analogous to the human stomach (being the only one that absorbs nutrients for use as energy) and is sometimes called the 'true stomach'.
Sheep need plenty of water, they also prefer to drink from running water such as brooks and streams rather than still sources. Sheep also require clean water and may refuse to drink water that is covered in scum or algae.
Sheep Milk and Wool
Different breeds of sheep are bred specifically for the type of wool and milk they produce as well as being a valuable source of meat.
Spinning wool into yarn began about 5,000 years ago. One pound of wool can make 10 miles of yarn. One years growth of fleece, makes around 8 pounds of wool. Fleeces of British sheep can be classified into three main types: carpet wools, down wools and long wools each with differing end uses.
Sheep are either sheared in the early summer months, or immediately prior to winter housing. Since sheep breeds no longer naturally molt, shearing is necessary to prevent the animal from overheating either when indoors, or outside during hot summer months. When shorn, sheep are also much less prone to fly strike.
Shearing is usually carried out by shearers from Australia and New Zealand who travel the world to shear sheep all year round. This 'shearing circuit' is seen as a way to save money to start farming. Once a sheep has been shorn, the fleece is rolled up and tied with its own wool. It is then put into wool sacks and then collected. It is then cleaned, dyed, combed and spun into yarn in which clothes and carpets are made from it. The sheep are then nice a cool in the summer and their fleece can begin to freshly grow again.
The milk that sheep produce is both nutritious and delicious. The milk has a rich, bland, slightly sweet taste. It is much higher in total solids than either cow or goat milk and contains up to twice as many of the minerals like calcium, phosphorus and zinc and the all important B group Vitamins. It is sold both fresh and frozen in pint or 500ml packs and keeps well for at least 4 months in a deep freeze.
Below is a comparative analysis of sheep, goat and cows milk:
Whole Milk %
Calorific value /100g
Folic acid ug/l
162 - 259
102 - 203
82 - 183
86 - 118
41 - 132
35 - 65
14 - 19
13 - 19
0.5 - 1.2
0.19 - 0.5
0.03 - 0.1
0.01 - 0.1
Even if people are severely lactose intolerant, the lactose will have been converted into lactic acid if they take their sheep milk in the form of yogurt and much of the lactose goes out with the whey in hard cheese making. There is also evidence that the lactose in sheep milk is more tolerated than from other milk and certainly worth a try.
One more thing you may not know, is that the fat from sheep is called 'Tallow'. It is cooked and purified and is used to make candles or further prepared and made into blocks of soap!
Sheep are quite intelligent creatures and have more brainpower than people are willing to give them credit for. For example, sheep in Yorkshire, England found a way to get over cattle grids by rolling on their backs. Clever sheep!
A study published in National Geographic magazine showed that a sheep can remember the faces of fifty other sheep for over two years. Amazing!
However, if you ever come across a sheep on its back, give it a hand and get it up on its feet. Sheep cannot get themselves back upright from that position and if left for too long it will unfortunately, eventually die!