The Galapagos Lava Lizard is the most frequently sighted reptile at the Galapagos Islands. They are found right across the arhcipelago and visitors rarely need to look hard to see them. Perhaps due to this fact, and their dimunutive size, they are an often overlooked species. But for those who take a little time to get to know them, the Galapagos Lava Lizard can be rather fascinating. For starters, their bright colorings are wonderfully photogenic. Lava lizards are rarely shy so photographers can crouch down real close to them. Lava lizards also have some incredibly unique abilities and behaviors to observe, like performing push-ups and shedding their tails. So give these little fellas a chance, and let's get to know them.
Read on for everything you ever wanted to know about the Galapagos Lava Lizard. Where and When can you see them? How to recognise them? And why on earth do lava lizards do push-ups?
The Galapagos Lava Lizard is an: ENDEMIC SPECIES
Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Scientific Name: Microlophus spp. (7 different species)
Galapagos Lava Lizards are impossible not to spot! In the common arid scrubland habitat they seem to perch on every rock, or be scurrying from one place to another. There are in fact seven different Galapagos lava lizard species from the genus Microlophus. So let's find out where to look for them.
Lava lizards inhabit all Galapagos islands with the exception of Genovesa, Darwin, and Wolf. The most common Galapagos Lava Lizard species is found on 10 of the central & western islands. While the other 6 species each live on one specific island (Española, Floreana, Marchena, Pinta, Pinzon & San Cristobal). All are endemic species to Galapagos, and believed to have adapted from one common mainland anscestor.
All year round. They are more active during the day when the sun is out.
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Galapagos lava lizards have similar appearance across each of their seven species. They are small and slim, averaging 5-6 inches long. Individuals vary in colour from grey to green or brown and even black. Males tend to be larger in size, up to 2 or 3 times that of a female. Males also have brighter colours with yellow specks or gold stripes, and a spiny back crest. Females are easy to recognise with an attractive red throat or head.
Breeding season takes place in the warm months at the start of the year. A large male will typically control a territory as large as 400 square meters, and attempt to mate with any female that passes through. The competition for territories often becomes competitive, with aggressive consequences. Which leads onto a very common question: Why do lava lizards do pushups?
A male lava lizard will be very protective of his territory, while other males are more than happy to encrouch. Each lava lizard male needs to vigorously defend their ground, and show the others who is boss. What better way to convince others not to mess with you than a macho show of testosterone? To do this the defending male launches into an intimidating round of frantic push-ups. If he is able to make himself look big and strong then the intruder may give up and move on elsewhere. But if he is unimpressed then the tension escalates into a full-on push-up contest. It's pretty exhausting stuff under the hot tropical sun, but the potential reward of females to romance spurs them both on. What happens if the press-up competition ends in a draw? Conflict becomes inevtiable with tail slapping and biting to determine the victor.
If the victorious male has any energy left after his epic muscle gym session, then he can enjoy his spoils. He may attempt to mate with any female within his territory. Females lay small pea-sized eggs, four to six at a time, buried deep in the soil. After three months of incubation the eggs hatch into tiny little Galapagos lava lizard babies.
Lava Lizards prefer the lowlands and shorelines of Galapagos. They look for dry sandy areas, with rocky nooks and crannies to hide under. They also need cacti and plants closeby to attract bugs for them to feed on.
As cold-blooded creatures they need sun rays to stay warm, and are often spotted sun-bathing atop lava rocks. But on extremely hot days they'll retire to shadier spots to conserve their energy.
Not surprisingly, Lava Lizards love to eat bugs. Their diet consists mostly of flies, ants, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, centipedes, and spiders. Interestingly, they can also adapt to eat seeds and plants if necessary. This is particularly handy adaptation during time of drought when plants and insect populations are less adundant.
• Galapagos lava lizards are capable of changing color, and might have various reasons to do so. Firstly for camouflage, a lava lizard may adapt to blend in better with their surroundings if they spot a potential predator. They might also change based on mood or ambiental temperature changes. Scientists believe that range of color change may vary depending on which Galapagos island they inhabit.
• Being so small, Galapagos lava lizards have a long list of predators who want to eat them. Snakes and Galapagos hawks are their most fearsome predators, but lave lizards also need to be wary of Galapagos mockingbirds and herons . To counter these threats they have developed three very effective defensive mechanisms. Firstly, they rely on excellent camouflage. Secondly, in the event that they have been spotted they are also very speedy at gaining safe ground in a crevasse or under a rock. Thirdly, and most remarkably, they can disconnect their tail from their body during a predator attack. Why would this be an appropriate tactic? Basically the tail continues to squirm on the ground to distract the would-be predator. Meanwhile the lava lizard has a few valuable seconds to make a cunning escape. Happily, the lava lizard tail grows back again in a matter of weeks.
• Lava Lizards play an important role in the Galapagos food chain. As their diet consists mostly of insects, they help our in pest control. This is especially true of the painted locust, which otherwise causes great damage to native flora and habitat.
If you enjoyed this post, then check out more information about Galapagos Islands Reptiles and Animals.
In conclusion, the Galapagos lava lizard is a charismatic little fella. Close up photos of them can be spectacular, especially with a macro lens. Videos of their muscle-beach pushup antics are great value too! So don't rush on past in search of bigger or more exciting prospects. Share a precious moment with the humble Galapagos lava lizard, and you might just find yourself surprised.