The most famous fauna of the islands of course are the iguanas, giant tortoises and finches. On Charles Island, their second stop, Darwin was told by the local prisoners that each island had its own peculiar tortoise. These are huge beasts weighing up to and over 90kg, big enough for Charles and others to ride like a horse, and the staple meat for the islanders and visitors alike. They seemed to live an age as well; he was informed that ‘the old ones seem generally to die from accidents, as from falling down precipices’ and dead animals were never found without an ‘evident cause’. Darwin though let this local wisdom pass him by, thinking at the time that the tortoises were originally imported by man.
Likewise he seemed little impressed by the iguanas, not realising these ‘disgusting clumsy Lizards’ were unique to the island chain. But he observed their habits closely and his Journal of Researches has some lovely stories of what he saw:
‘I watched one for a long time, till half its body was buried; I then walked up and pulled it by the tail; at this it was greatly astonished, and soon shuffled up to see what was the matter; and then stared me in the face, as much as to say, “What made you pull my tail?”’