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The Life of a Galapagos Lava Lizard

Lava Lizard Microlophus Albemarlensis

Lava Lizard Microlophus Albemarlensis

In a world where Giant Tortoises, Birds with bright blue feet, and swimming iguanas garner most of the attention, the little Lava Lizard goes all but unnoticed. Despite its diminutive size, the Lava Lizard plays a vital role in regulating the insect population of the Galapagos, including that of the Painted Locust.

There are actually seven species of Lava Lizard that can be found on all the major islands except Genovesa.  Of these, Microlophus Albemarlensis is the most widely distributed, and can be found on Baltra, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Rábida, North Seymour, Santa Fé and South Plaza. Of the islands with permitted visitor sites, Microlophus Bivittatus can be found on San Cristóbal, Microlophus Grayi on Floreana and Microlophus Delanonis on Española. The islands of Pinzón and Pinta each have their own unique species, however these islands are not open for visitation.

Male Lava Lizard in "push-up" territorial display

Male Lava Lizard in "push-up" territorial display

The male Lava Lizard is somewhat larger (15-20cm) than the female (12-18cm) and is distinctly territorial.  He can frequently be spotted standing on top of rocks or trail markers doing his territorial "push-up" display. Males can be identified by their rough, patterned skin and distinctive spinal crest. The base color is often influenced by the the local geology and vegetation.  Lizards on Fernandina tend to be darker to blend in with the black lava. Those on Rábida tend to have a more brownish-red hue to match the unique red coloration of the rocks.

Femal Lava Lizard with distinctive red-orange throat.

Femal Lava Lizard with distinctive red-orange throat.

Females, particularly in mating season, develop a distinctive bright red or orange throat. Breeding takes place primarily during the hottest months of February, March and April. Females will lay 3-6 eggs in deep burrows, often in several  clutches spaced three to four weeks apart.  Eggs hatch approximately three months later. Males take three years to mature, while females mature as early as nine months.

Lava Lizards are omniverous, eating primarily insects, however some eat vegetation, particularly in the dry season.  Lava Lizards prey on invertebrates, however they have also been known to eat one another in acts of cannibalism.


 

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