Mythological Secrets of Greece: Nea & Palea Kameni

Nea Kameni is the eastern Mediterannean’s youngest volcanic landform, and today it is a protected natural monument and national geological park. Nea Kameni and the neighbouring small island Palea Kameni (the new and old burnt islands) have formed over the past two millennia by repeated eruptions of dacite lava and ash. The most recent eruption occurred in January 1950 when the volcano dropped lava within a range of 850 meters, and explosions lasted for three weeks.

“This year a small islet, hitherto unknown, made an appearance close to the island of Thera.” ~ Roman historian, Cassius Dio, 47 AD

Volcanic Nea Kameni @EvaVarga.netNea Kameni is visited daily by dozens of tourist boats. We were amongst them – enjoying an late afternoon cruise in a kaiki (traditionally, a small wooden trading vessel, brightly painted and rigged for sail) to the volcanic island within the flooded Santorini caldera.

This excursion can be bought in any hotel in Santorini, as it is very popular. Boats leave from the new harbor, Fira, and it takes about 20 minutes to travel to the volcano in the middle of the caldera.

Nea Kameni

Upon arrival, we hiked a gravel path to reach the top of the 130-meter-high volcanic crater. There is a small entrance fee to help pay for the upkeep and the monitoring systems.

The ascent to the rim of Nea Kameni requires walking up some unstable terrain, under Santorini’s trademark blazing sun. We were glad we wore comfortable sandals and protective gear to shield us from the hot rays. From here we had a magnificent view of Thira (Santorini) before returning to the kaiki along the same path.

Magma exists at depths of a few kilometers; it’s visible through hot springs and hot gases, giving Nea Kameni its trademark sulfuric aroma. The kids got a kick out of the fact that we hiked the rim of a volcano inside another volcano! 

Palea Kameni @EvaVarga.netPalea Kameni

After the hike, we sailed to the volcanic islet of Palea Kameni where we could enjoy a short swim to a protected bay along the shore. The water went from green to orange-brown and we all giggled when we began to feel the temperature change, the hot and cold perfectly showing the effect of the waters coming up from below within the volcano.

You could just feel the tension melt away after a unique afternoon swim in the heated waters of the thermal springs. Although it wasn’t hot enough to be dubbed a ‘hot spring’ we found the water temperature to be refreshing after our hike on nearby Nea Kameni. Yes, our clothes did get stained a little but we had been forewarned.

We closed the evening with a wonderful buffet dinner aboard the kaiki as we watched the sunset over the islands. It was spectacular conclusion to our holiday in Greece.

This is the first in a five-day hopscotch exploring the Mythological Secrets of Greece:

The Acropolis & Ancient Athens 

The Island of Mykonos

The Island of Delos

The Lost City and Paradise in Santorini

Nea & Palea Kameni  (this post)

Hopscotch-2017-67808

Find more homeschool related topics to explore at the iHomeschool Network’s Homeschool Hopscotch

Science on the Road: Visiting the Statue of Liberty & Chemical Reactions

In September, we spent a few days in New York City on the island of Manhattan, the city’s historical birthplace and the economic and center. The borough contains several smaller islands including Liberty Island, Ellis Island (shared with New Jersey), Governors Island, and a few others. We were really looking forward to exploring the area and learning more about the history of the area, specifically the Statue of Liberty.

Science of the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netWe arrived in Manhattan via Amtrak train from Boston in the early afternoon. We thereby opted to take in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the following day when we could arrive early and board the first cruise boat. This turned out to be a wise decision as the queue upon our return to the main island was very long.

We grabbed a quick bite at the deli just outside the Courtyard Marriott on 40th where we are staying then hopped the green line express to Bowling Green. Here, we walked the short distance to the boarding area.

We immediately made our way to the National Park Visitor Center after we disembarked. Here we stamped our Park Passport Books and inquired about guided tours. We were in luck in that the first tour would begin in just 20 minutes. We took a few candid photos (Geneva pulled out her sketch book) as we waited.

As we planned to spend all our time in this area, we opted to purchase the New York CityPASS as the majority of the attractions were in this general area. In addition to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island cruise, the pass provided us with tickets to each of the following attractions:

  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • The Empire State Building
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Guggenheim Museum 
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum   

 

Science & Art of Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netVisiting the Statue of Liberty & Liberty Island

Liberty Island Tour

The group that gathered for the guided tour of Liberty Island was small and thereby very intimate. I am surprised more people don’t take advantage of this opportunity – they are so very informative and best of all, FREE!

As we listened to the park ranger, we learned the idea of gifting the United States with a monument was first proposed in 1865 by Frenchman Edouard de Laboulaye. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture ten years later, with a goal of completing the work in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence.

As a joint venture between the two nations, it was agreed that the American people were to build the pedestal (carved in granite, the pedestal was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt in 1884), and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly here in the United States.

In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment, and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds for the project. In the United States, theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prizefights assisted in financing the construction.

Poet Emma Lazarus wrote her famous sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883 for the art and literary auction to raise funds for the Statue’s pedestal.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
 – Emma Lazarus

Science & History of the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netCentennial Gift 10 Years Late

Financing for the pedestal was completed in August 1885, and pedestal construction was finished in April 1886. The Statue was completed in France in July 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor in June 1885 onboard the French frigate “Isere.”

In transit, the Statue was reduced to 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The Statue was reassembled on her new pedestal in four months’ time. On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in front of thousands of spectators.

Homage to the Statue of Liberty Supporters

On Liberty Island, there are several small sculptures commemorating several of the key supporters of the Statue of Liberty gift. I really enjoyed hearing the personal triumphs that made it all possible.

  • Edouard de Laboulaye ~ The “Father of the Statue of Liberty.” He provided the idea that would become the Statue.
  • Frederic Auguste Bartholdi ~ The French artist and sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.
  • Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel ~ The architect and engineer who designed the Statue’s internal support.
  • Emma Lazarus ~ The poetess who wrote “The New Colossus” to help raise money for the pedestal’s construction.
  • Joseph Pulitzer ~ The newspaper publisher who helped raise the money needed to complete the pedestal’s construction.

One of the things I overheard many of the young visitors ask as we walked about the island was, “Why is it green?” I knew that when I returned home, this was a concept I wanted to revisit with my children.

Bring it Home ~ Oxidation Reduction Reactions

Why is the Statue of Liberty Blue-Green?

Begin by showing students photographs of the Statue of Liberty.  Ask students to describe the color. Students usually give the right answer: that it is blue or aquamarine (blue-green). Now ask them why it is this color. Students generally have no clue.

Explain that the color is due to the oxidation of copper. Next, show them a piece of rusted metal and point out that the red color of rust is caused by the oxidation of iron.

Science of Oxidation and the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netOxidation Explained with Chemical Equations

Chemical reactions can be divided into two classes: redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions and non-redox reactions based on whether electron transfer process is involved or not. A redox reaction consists of two half reactions: a reductive half in which a reactant accepts electrons and an oxidative half in which a reactant donates electrons.

2Cu + O2 → Cu2O

The nature of a redox reaction is that one reactant donates its electrons to the other reagent. For example, in the oxidation of copper by oxygen, copper atoms donate electrons to an oxygen molecule so copper is oxidized while oxygen is reduced.

The Statue of Liberty gets its blue-green color from patina formed on its copper surface mainly through oxidation along with several other chemical reactions. The main constituent of patina contains a mixture of 3 compounds: Cu4SO4(OH)6 in green; Cu2CO3(OH)2 in green; and Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2 in blue. The following reactions are involved.

2Cu2O + O2 → 4CuO

Cu + S → 4CuS 

The oxidation starts with the formation of copper oxide (Cu2O), which is red or pink in color (equation 1), when copper atoms initially react with oxygen molecules in the air. Copper oxide is further oxidized to copper oxide (CuO), which is black in color (equation 2). In the 19th and early 20th century, coal was the major fuel source for American industry and it usually contains sulfur. Thus, the black copper sulfide (CuS) also forms (equation 3).

2CuO + CO2 + H2O → Cu2CO3(OH)2

3CuO + 2CO2 + H2O → Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2

4CuO + SO3 +3H2O → Cu4SO4(OH)6

Over the years, CuO and CuS slowly reacts with carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydroxide ions (OH-) in water from the air to eventually form Cu2CO3(OH)2 (equation 4) , Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2 (equation 5) and Cu4SO4(OH)6 (equation 6), which constitute the patina. The extent of humidity and the level of sulfur-related air pollution have a significant impact on how fast the patina develops, as well as the relative ratio of the three components.

Take it Further

Can you think of another oxidation reduction reaction? Write out the chemical equations to further describe this process.

 

Our US Constitution: A Scavenger Hunt Activity for Teens

While we were back east, we spent a day in Philadelphia touring the many historical sites. We had arrived just days after Constitution Day – September 17th. We were informed that living history interpreters stand on the step of Independence Hall and read aloud the Constitution just as they had done in 1787. We were bummed to have missed this but a las, travel plans are not always perfect.

us-constitutionThe Constitution of the United States is one of the most important documents ever written. Congress authorized delegates to gather in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to address grievances that had emerged since declaring independence from England and recommend changes to the existing charter of government for the 13 states, the Articles of Confederation.

All American HistoryJohn Adams described the Constitutional Convention as “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen”. It is to this day, a seminal event in the history of human liberty.

To learn more about our nation’s history, I strongly recommend All American History by Celeste Rakes. It is available from Bright Ideas Press in two volumes and includes a student reader, student activity book, and teacher guide. We’ve been working through each chapter as we have prepared for our travels. My kids beg me to read another chapter every few days.

Primary Sources: James Madison

The best way to see into the past and learn about any historical event is with primary sources. These include diaries, letters, newspaper articles, documents, speeches, personal papers, photographs, paintings, and other items created near the time begin studied. They are made by people who have direct, firsthand knowledge of the event.Our United States Constitution: A Scavenger Hunt Activity for Teens @EvaVarga.net

Because many of James Madison’s ideas made their way into the Constitution, he is often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” Indeed, he was a driving force of the convention throughout the summer of 1787, and his notes of the deliberations have provided valuable insights into the proceedings.

None of the Constitutional Convention delegates talked to newspaper reporters or other outsiders. Some delegates took notes, but not every day. Even secretary William Jackson’s records were incomplete.

James Madison gave us our only complete primary source. Every day, he sat at the front of the East Room and recorded the day’s events. After the Convention convened, he wrote:

I noted in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself what was read or spoken by the members; and … I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session or within a few finishing days after its close … I was not absent a single day, nor more than a … fraction of an hour in any day, so that I could not have lost a single speech, unless a very short one.

US Constitution: Take it Further

The Bill of Rights document states the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Read through and discuss each amendment with your students. These amendments guarantee the basic freedoms that Americans enjoy today.

Older students should be encouraged to read the US Constitution in an Old World Style design as pictured here. Reading the ornate handscript is not easy though – even for one familiar with cursive lettering. Younger students can use a printed text.

I’ve put together a challenging and fun scavenger hunt with which to encourage your students to read the Constitution. You can download it for free .. I simply request you leave a comment answering, “What historical figure from this era do you most admire?”

Some of America’s best minds created the United States Constitution. Among them were James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and George Washington. Encourage your students to select one of these men and research his contributions to our country and give a presentation.

42 delegates signed the Constitution on the 17th of September 1787. Three refused. Learn more about who these men were and why they abstained.Our United States Constitution: A Scavenger Hunt Activity for Teens @EvaVarga.net

Choose one of the amendments. Write a short speech giving your opinion of the amendment. Tell why you think it is or is not an important right for citizens to have and what life might be like without it.

Visit the Explore the Constitution website where Constitutional experts interact with each other to explore the Constitution’s history and what it means today.

Constitution Day

To commemorate the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution of the United States, Congress has designated September 17th of each year as Constitution Day. In 2004, Public Law 108-447, Section 111 was passed requiring the following:

Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the education institution.

Sadly, I don’t recall learning about the Constitution on an annual basis when I was in school. We covered it in US History – but not more than a few times I am sure. How about you?

 

Discovering Peru: Majestic Machu Picchu {GIVEAWAY}

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machu Picchu District in Peru. In native Quechua, machu means old person while pikchu means peak or mountain.

We departed the Aranwa Hotel shortly after breakfast and made our way to Machu Picchu Pueblo at the base of the mountain via train.

trainstationUpon arrival, we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch at the train station. There is a nice little deli on site with picnic tables beneath shade umbrellas for comfort. International Expeditions had arranged for our meals in advance so there was no need to wait in line. Porters transported our luggage to the motel so we didn’t have to worry about anything.

Something hidden. Go and find it.

Go and look behind the Ranges –

Something lost behind the Ranges.

Lost and waiting for you. Go!

~ Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Explorer

We walked through town relatively swiftly – there would be time to shop and browse in the early evening if we desired. We boarded a bus on the edge of town and made our way along the switch backs to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

machupicchupuebloMajestic Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu stands in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily majestic setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height; its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments. The natural setting, on the slopes of the Andes, encompasses a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

machupicchuMachu Picchu is among the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere. The World Heritage property covers 32,592 hectares of mountain slopes, peaks and valleys surrounding its heart, the spectacular archaeological monument of “La Ciudadela” (the Citadel).

majesticmachupicchuBuilt in the fifteenth century, it was abandoned when the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. It was not until 1911 that the archaeological complex was made known to the outside world by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Since then, Machu Picchu has become the largest tourist attraction in South America.

huaynapicchuWe entered the site with our IE guide, Harvey, in the early afternoon and were not surprised by the number of people.  He led us to a few key locations within the citadel, speaking at length about the historical significance and the incredible architecture of the area. I loved listening to our guide as he shared his anecdotes, peppered with Quechua. We got a real feeling for the lifestyle of the Inca before the arrival of the Spanish.

stairsThe Incan homes were built with a slight trapezoidal construction to withstand earthquakes. Niches, built into the walls, release weight and pressure – each perfectly matched to another directly across the room from it. Where there is a door or entrance-way, two niches balance.

terracesThe design is modeled after nature. What is not visible are the more than 130 underground channels that divert and redirect water through the city. Most evidence shows that Machu Picchu was built in the 1400s. The engineering feats are outstanding – a skill that is NOT matched even with today’s technology.

rockcontrastsAquas Calientes

In the early evening, we returned Aquas Calientes where we meandered the stalls of the open market only briefly. The altitude coupled with the intensity at which we traversed the ruins led us home to our hotel. The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, where we resided the next two nights, was incredible. As before, however, I will reserve my review for another time.

The small town of Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo is the village/town in the Urubamba Valley, northeast of the ruins of Machu Picchu. This is where trains come in from Cuzco and from where buses take tourists all the way up to the famous archaeological site. The Vilcanota River rapidly rushes near the town.

trainyard

While it is estimated that a million tourist come to Aguas Clients each year, most don’t take the time to walk around and explore the pueblo. It has its own attractions and it might be interesting for you to check them out, if you have the time. There are many hotels and restaurants in the town, which lives primarily out of the travel industry. From cheap hotels to expensive ones in the luxury segment, you will find almost anything here.

Return to Machu Picchu

The following day, we had hoped to be amongst the 200 to hike Huayna Picchu, but it didn’t work out. This is likely for the best considering it had rained over night and the rocks were undoubtedly slick – making an already narrow trail all the more treacherous.

Instead, we spent the morning within the citadel of Machu Picchu. Harvey was with us for only a short time – providing a little more interpretive information bur thereafter we were on our own.

llamasGeneva wasn’t feeling all too well so we didn’t stay too long. We hiked up to one of the higher viewpoints to take more photos. Patrick tried to do a short time-lapse video, but the park ranger asked him to move along.

In the afternoon, we returned to the Inkaterra where we enjoyed a leisurely orchid walk on the hotel grounds. I’ll share highlights from that walk in my review of the hotel.

Discovering Peru @WellTraveledFamily.netJoin me later this week as I share our discoveries in:

Arriving in Cusco & the Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo Temple & Peruvian Paso (coming Wednesday)

Cusco – The Imperial City (coming Thursday)

Lima – The City of the Kings (coming Friday)

travelguidesWhen we travel, I always purchase a DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to familiarize myself with the country and the culture. Updated annually, each book provides a detailed description of popular tourist attractions, restaurants, and lodging options.

Each guide divides the country (or city) into color coded regions enabling quick browsing while on the road. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are comprehensive guides that provide everything to see at a location. While comprehensive, the books give just the right amount of information to spark interest in the particular sights you want to see. They are organized intelligently for the traveler, and they always provide a map.

As a special expression of gratitude to you, I am giving away one DK Eyewitness Travel Guide of choice to a lucky reader. The contest closes on the 20th of September at 12 a.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing. You might also be interested in my post, 5 Misconceptions in Science & How to Dispel Them, on my homeschool blog.

Hopcotch2015

A Day in the Islands: Channel Islands National Park

Located offshore, these five islands, known as the American Galapagos, inspire with wildlife viewing, hiking, sea cave kayaking, and world-class diving. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth and helped preserve a place where visitors can experience coastal southern California as it once was.

Channel Islands National Park

These islands, on the edge of the North American continent, were never connected to the mainland. During the last Ice Age, when sea levels were lower, the four northern islands were joined as a single island known to geologists as Santarosae. When the sea rose again it created the four northern islands we see today.

Channel Islands National ParkWe had a chance to visit these islands and I delight in sharing the highlights of our trip with you.  We booked a tour with Island Packers, who visits all five of the islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. Our tour included whale watching and allowed a full day of exploration on Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz Island

At over 96 square miles in size and the largest island in California, Santa Cruz contains three mountain ranges; the highest peak on the island (rising above 2000 feet); a large central valley/fault system; deep canyons with year round springs and streams; and 77 miles of craggy coastline cliffs, giant sea caves, pristine tide pools and expansive beaches.

Scorpion Ranch HarborAround Scorpion Ranch area, where we moored, volcanic rock mixes with siliceous shale made of mud and tiny sea plants and animals that lived when the island was part of the seabed. It was fascinating to walk along the shoreline and look for fossils. My daughter even braved the chilly waters for a short swim.

This area was once a lively ranch complex. French and Italian artisans, farmers, and workers collaborated here to raise sheep, roosters, and other farm animals. Residents had to adapt to the limited resources and barren landscape.

Remnants of the ranching era can be seen throughout the landscape.  Adobe ranch houses, barns, blacksmith and saddle shops, wineries and a chapel all attest to the many uses of Santa Cruz in the 1800 and 1900s.

We visited in May and thus the water was too cold yet to swim so we spent the day hiking along the many trails and roads that traverse the islands. We began on Cavern Paint Loop and connected to the North Bluff Trail out to Potato Harbor.

Santa Cruz Island FoxAnimals & Plants

Owing to millions of years of isolation many distinctive plants and animal species have adapted to the island’s unique environment. The Channel Islands are home to nearly 150 endemic plants and animals – species that are found here and nowhere else.

Dozens of species are endemic to the archipelago in general, for example: Island Western Fence Lizard, Island Gopher Snake, and Island Deer Mouse. The Santa Cruz Island Fox, Silver Lotus, and the Island Jay are found only on Santa Cruz Island. Plants include Santa Cruz Island Manzanita, Whitehair Manzanita, and the Santa Cruz Island Lacepod and Gooseberry, amongst others.

Channel Islands SucculentChumash People

The islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago. The Chumash made ingenious use of all the island’s resources. They depended heavily on the ocean – fishing, gathering shellfish, and hunting sea lions, seals, birds, and other animals.

They also harvested plants for food, medicine, bedding, building materials, and to make beautiful baskets. Rock collected on the island was used to craft tools for harvesting and preparing food, building plank canoes or tools, and making beads.

Saxipak’a ~ Once upon a time.

The Chumash also traded with communities on the mainland and other islands for things that were limited or unavailable on Santa Cruz. Shell beads, fishhooks, otter pelts, fish and shellfish were traded for products like acorns, bow and arrows, seeds, plants, and deer bone.

The native peoples were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military now uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location. The National Park Service (NPS) lead the conservation efforts to maintain the islands’ endemic species as well as provide education for future generations.

Cavern Paint Loop TrailIntegrated Learning Experiences

The award-winning book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, was inspired by the true story of an American Indian woman left alone on one of the Channel Islands for 18 years in the 1800s. She’s come to be known as the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island and is thought to have been of Gabrielino-Tongva descent.

Though San Nicolas Island is closed to the public, you can experience island isolation and the natural resources described in the book by visiting the islands. The National Park Service and other partners have developed resources to guide those interested in learning more.

Students and teachers can explore the unique ecology and geology of the Channel Islands, learn about the marine and island ecosystems, their human history, and the challenges of managing and protecting these areas via the curriculum materials available from the NPS as well.

Santa Cruz Potato HarborWe would have loved to see more of the island but this was a day trip – we’ll be back! After a day of hiking and exploring (I believe we hiked about 5 miles), we returned to the mainland in the evening and enjoyed a Santa Maria style barbecue at Shaw’s Restaurant. It was the perfect way to conclude our day in the islands.

 

Wildlife of the Galapagos

This past week, I shared with you our discoveries while we were in the Galápagos in a five-day series titled, The Islands of the Galápagos. Today, I would like to share with you the wildlife of the Galapagos archipelago, while also showcasing the life zones and ecology of the islands.

wildlifegalapagos

Visitors to the islands notice that there are few species on the Galápagos archipelago. The geology of the islands, with the constant volcanic activity, creates a harsh, desert climate with very little rain and high temperatures so that only the higher slopes of the larger islands have enough rain to nourish a luxuriant growth of plants.

This, in turn, results in an environment that is very hostile for most animals that are found on the continent. Most of the islands are low and what little rain they get comes during a short rainy season, with the rest of the year being very dry. The amount of rain varies from one year to the next.

“The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention… Considering the small size of these islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range…Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact–that mystery of mysteries–the first appearance of new beings on this earth.”  ~ Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

“Eminently curious” well describes the natural history of the Galápagos, from its sere landscapes to its comical birdlife. For over 400 years this volcanic archipelago has both puzzled and stunned its visitors, and no aspect of the islands is as stunning as its wildlife. The ease of approach to the birds, iguanas, tortoises and other creatures of the Galápagos is due to their isolation from natural predators, a condition that first stirred Charles Darwin in 1835.

Eco-zones of the Galápagos

There are a total of seven zones within the archipelago housing a variety of plant life. Varying amounts of rainfall with altitude, and from island to island, have led to the formation of vegetation zones ranging from desert to lush cloud-forest.

Various plants and animals have adapted over the years to the conditions of the islands and in some cases the condition of the zone. Plantlife (or flora) is normally found in a specific zone and the animal life (fauna) dependent on those plants can be found in the same zone.

lifezones

Image from MIT.edu

Coastal Zone

The lowest life zone on the island is the coastal zone. Those plants here can be divided into the Wet Coastal Zone (or Mangrove Zone) and the Dry Coastal Zone (beaches and high tide areas). Saltbush is found near most shores, where it forms a dense low shrubby tangle.

Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees and shrubs that thrive in shallow and muddy saltwater or brackish waters. In the Galápagos there are 4 varieties of Mangroves including the Black Mangrove, White Mangrove, Red Mangrove, and Button Mangrove.

Here most of our walks in the Galápagos took place — with the scuttle of the bright orange Sally lightfoot crabs underfoot, beneath the gaze and snort of the marine iguanas, to the barking of sea lions and the crashing of the surf off the shore. This is the environment we will remember when we look back on our time spent in the Galápagos.

Lowlands Zone

As an island slopes from the beach to an elevation of about 197 ft (60 m) elevation an arid desert like zone occurs. This region is home to the many Cacti that live in the Galápagos including the Prickly Pear Cactus, Lava Cactus, and Candelabra Cactus .

Vine plants also make their home here; the endemic lava morning glory and endemic passionflower can be found in this zone. At the top of the Arid Lowlands the silvery leafed Palo Santo Tree with its collection of lichens can be seen.
wildlifegalapagos

Transitional Zone

Rising up the island, plants become more frequent. In the Transition Zone plants from both the Arid Lowlands and the Upper Moist Zones occur. This zone is home to a variety of small trees or shrubs including the endemic Pega Pega Tree and the endemic Guaybillo, which produces a small white flower that develops into a fruit similar to its cousin the Guava.

“The distribution of the tenants of this archipelago would not be nearly so wonderful, if, for instance, one island had a mocking-thrush, and a second island some other quite distinct genus…. But it is the circumstance, that several of the islands possess their own species of tortoise, mocking-thrush, finches and numerous plants, these species having the same general habits, occupying analogous situations, and obviously filling the same place in the natural economy of this archipelago, that strikes me with wonder….”   ~ Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Scalesia Zone

The lowest of the “humid” zones, the Scalesia zone is named for the daisy tree that grows between 970-1970 ft (300 – 600 m) elevations. The Scalesia is one of the few trees in the Aster Family and grows to heights 16 – 50 ft (5-15 m) in height. Its trunk and branches are covered with moss and lichens. This area is humid and has the essence of being in a rainforest.

Scalesia Trees have been greatly reduced in numbers since humans arrived in the islands. With them came pigs and goats, which devour the young plants and feed on older plants. People also introduced the Guava, a plant whose dense growth patterns steals nutrients and eventually makes it impossible for competing plants to survive.

Brown Zone

An intermediate zone between the dense Scalesia forest and the Miconia shrubb vegetation, the Brown Zone is an open forest dominated by cat’s law, tournefortia pubescens, and aunistus ellipticus. Trees are heavily draped with epiphytes, mosses, livertorts and ferms, which give this zone a brown appearance during the dry season. However, on the islands with this elevation, this zone has disappeared because of colonization by man.

Miconia Zone

Above the Scalesia Zone at 1950 – 2300 ft (600-700 m) is the humid zone named for the Miconia shrub that once dominated this region. Miconia Robinsoniana grows to heights of 10-13 ft (3-4 m). The yellow or reddish shading on the edges of its leaves easily identify it.

The Miconia is endemic to the Galápagos, but since the arrival of man it has become the most endangered plant in the islands. Introduced cattle have grazed the Miconia into dangerously low levels.

Pampa Zone

On islands with elevations over 3000 ft (900 m ) the highest vegetation zone in the Galápagos can occur, the Fern-Sedge Zone or Pampa Zone . The appearance of this zone depends on the amount of moisture it receives. This region contains no true trees or shrubs. The tall Galápagos Tree Fern and Liverworts are commonly found in this zone.

galapagoswildlifeWildlife of the Galapagos *

BIRDS

  • Blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii)  ✓
  • Red-footed booby (Sula sula)
  • Nazca booby (Sula dactylatra)  ✓
  • Waved albatross (Diomedia irrorata)   ✓
  • Magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)   ✓
  • Galapagos penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus)   ✓
  • Lava heron (Butorides sundevalli)   ✓
  • Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)   ✓
  • Yellow-crowned night heron (Nyctanassa violacea)
  • Striated heron (Butorides striata)   ✓
  • Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)   ✓
  • Flightless Cormorant (Nannopterum harrisi)   ✓
  • Lava gull (Larus fuligihosus)   ✓
  • Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
  • Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis)   ✓
  • Red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aetheus)   ✓
  • Storm petrels (Hydrobatidae)  
  • Swallow-tailed gulls (Creagrus furcatus  ✓
  • Galapagos mockingbird (Nesomimus parvulus)   ✓
  • Cactus ground finch (Geospiza scandens)   ✓
  • Warbler finch (Certhide a olivacea)   ✓
  • Great egret (Ardea alba  ✓
  • Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis  ✓
  • Galapagos rail (Laterallus spilonotus)    ✓
  • Lava gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus  ✓
  • Brown noddy (Anous stolidus  ✓
  • Galápagos dove (Zenaida galapagoensis  ✓
  • Darwin’s finches (Tanagers)   ✓
  • American yellow warbler   ✓
  • Galapagos pintail duck (Anas bahamensis galapagensis)  ✓

REPTILES

  • Tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) – fourteen subspecies   ✓
  • Land iguana (Conolophus sp.) – two species   ✓
  • Marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus sp.) – seven subspecies   ✓
  • Lava lizard (Tropidurus sp.) – seven species   ✓
  • Gecko (Phillodactylus sp.) – seven species
  • Snake (Dromicus sp.)

MAMMALS

  • Sea lion (Zalophus californianus wollebacki)   ✓
  • Fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis)
  • Galápagos rice rat
  • Hoary bat
  • Eastern red bat

INVERTEBRATES

The Galápagos islands are also home to innumerable marine invertebrates. This very diverse group includes molluscs (e.g., shells and snails), marine annelids (e.g., segmented worms), echinoderms (e.g., sea urchins, sea stars, and sea cucumbers), cnidarians (e.g., corals and gorgonians), sponges, and many others. Some of the more notable species we observed include:

  • Sally Lightfoot Crab   ✓
  • Sea Cucumbers   ✓
  • Chocolate Chip Star   ✓
  • Blue Sea Star   ✓
  • Galapagos Carpenter Bee   ✓
  • Large Painted Locust   ✓
  • Galapagos Scorpion   ✓

* checkmarks indicate the animals we observed

galapagos unitIf you would like to further explore the Galápagos from the comfort of your home or if you are planning to visit yourself, my multidisciplinary unit study, Galápagos Across the Curriculum, provides ample opportunity for kids to explore the diversity and remarkable history of the islands through a variety of hands-on science activities and projects.