From tiny Manus Island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, to the enormous island of Madagascar, islands throughout the world have evolved unique and unusual animal species which are often very different from wildlife living on the mainland. Isolated for millions of years from the nearest continent, islands are sometimes referred to as “living laboratories” where new species develop while sheltered from some of the forces sculpting evolution on the mainland. Below are just a few examples of unique island animals found in different parts of the world.
Marine Iguana – Galapagos Islands
Found only on the Galapagos Islands about 1,000 kilometers from the coast of mainland South America, the marine iguana is a truly unique creature: a lizard that spends large amounts of time submerged under sea water. These reptiles have adapted to feed on a diet of sea weed and algae near to the shore of the islands, and may stay underwater for as long as an hour at a time while foraging for food. Though all the marine iguanas in the Galapagos archipelago belong to the same species, each major island where the lizards are found has evolved a slightly different subspecies or “race” with a unique and distinctive appearance. Yet all of the marine iguanas now found on the islands are believed to have evolved from a small population of iguanas from the South American mainland which most likely were washed out sea on rafts of branches or logs, only to become stranded on the Galapagos. This founding population is thought by scientists to have evolved on the Galapagos into two new species – the marine iguana, and also the related Galapagos land iguana.
Kakapo Parrot – New Zealand
Another very odd island species is the ay-aye, native to Madagascar that combines rodent like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. It is well known for its odd method of collecting food by tapping on trees to find grub and then using its elongated middle finger to pull the grubs out. They are mainly solitary animals but have been to known to exhibit small amounts of social interaction. Aye-Ayes are nocturnal animals and commonly eat nuts, grubs, fruit, nectar, seeds, and fungi. This species is an endangered one not only to habitat destruction but also due to native superstition. Some native people see the aye-aye as the harbinger of death and kill it on sight. Also some say that the appearance of an aye aye means that a villager will die and that the only to prevent that is to kill the aye aye.
Deep sea cucumbers are pretty weird. They feed on mud at the bottom of the ocean.
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