Galapagos: Lava lizards

As soon as you start walking on any rocky path in the Galapagos, you will almost certainly encounter an interesting member of the Galapagos herpetofauna, the lava lizard (Tropiduridae: Microlophus.) The jury is still out on the exact number of species (or monophyletic lineages) of these reptiles that inhabit the islands, but the evidence is mounting that the Galapagos have been colonized on two separate occasions by ancestral Microlophus that came from South America. These ancestral populations have subsequently colonized the eastern, progressively younger islands, and developed into genetically distinct populations (Benavides et al 2009.)

Like most other animals on the islands, lava lizards are remarkably unafraid of people, and it is easy to get within a couple of inches of the reptiles that anywhere else in the world would be running away at the mere glimpse of your shadow. This is not to say that they don’t have natural enemies in the Galapagos – snakes and birds hunt lava lizards routinely – but animals as large as us are not seen as a threat. The lizards feed on any insects they can catch, even ones nearly as big as themselves (I saw one chasing the huge painted locust), but the most reliable source of food for them are flies that swarm around basking sea lions. Many sea lions had lizards running over their bodies, and they gladly tolerate lava lizards picking off flies, even from their eyeballs.

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