Map of the Galapagos IslandsThe Galapagos Islands are a group of islands lying nearly 1000 kilometres (600 miles) off the west coast of South America. Part of Ecuador, they lie across the equator. The islands were created by a volcanic "hot-spot" on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. They are home to hundreds of animal and plant species found nowhere else on Earth, known as “endemic” species. All the Galapagos animals and plants have, over millions of years, adapted in isolation to the harsh environment of the islands, evolving into the species we know today. The Galapagos Islands are a national park, and the waters surrounding them a marine reserve. Their wildlife is protected by law.
Because the Galapagos native species evolved in isolation, the islands are an excellent natural "laboratory" for studying how animals adapt to their environment. Studies of Galapagos wildlife helped the scientist Charles Darwin, who visited the islands in 1835, to develop his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Spanish explorers named the Galapagos islands after the giant tortoises they found there. The Spanish word “galápago” means "tortoise".
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