Spiders in the Galapagos Islands
Favorite thing: During my two first visits to Galapagos Islands I can’t remember seeing any spiders at all, but last time I saw quite a lot of them sitting waiting for prey in their nests. There are over 50 species of spiders in the Galapagos so it is strange that I hadn’t seen any on my previous visits. Maybe I had just not paid attention.
The spiders in the photos all fall in the group of orb web spiders, spiders who make webs to capture their pray. One common web spider is the Silver argiope (Argiope argentata) which usually sit still in the middle of their web, looking like an X (see picture 2).
There are also hunting spiders that doesn’t make webs but hunt their prey on walls in buildings. There is the quite large giant crab spider, which can look quite scary to many with its size, but I haven’t seen it in Galapagos.
Almost all spiders in Galapagos Islands are harmless. However there is the endemic Lathrodectes apicalis, a relative of the black widow, which has venom that can be dangerous. It can be found in rock crevices, but it doesn’t seem to be very common.
Favorite thing: There are around 1100 species of hermit crabs in the world. Most of them live in water but some live on land. In Galapagos Islands there are at least two species of hermit crabs that are terrestrial, the Caenobita compressus and the Calcinus exploratory (Galapagos hermit crab, also called orange tipped hermit crab).
You can find them on the sea shore and around mangroves and tidal pools. The hermit crab in photo 1 and 2 was walking around on a path in the end of Tortuga Bay, and the hermit crab in photo 3 was walking on the beach at Playa Escondida.
Hermit crabs have soft abdomen and to protect it they look for empty shells that they carry around, in which they can retract.
Favorite thing: The Yellow-crowned Night-heron in the Galapagos Islands is an endemic subspecies, Nycticorax violaceus pauper.
The juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-herons have a dark brown plumage with white or buff spots and streaks . As it becomes older the spots and streaks becomes fewer. The black bill is long and sharp and the unwebbed and long legs are yellow green. The adult Yellow-crowned Night-herons have a dark grey plumage with paler colour on the edge of the wings and feathers on the back. They have a black head , white cheeks and, as the name indicates, a yellow crown. They become around 60cm long.
It is often around rocky shores in coastal areas that you find the Yellow-crowned Night-heron. They are a quite common resident but as they are mainly nocturnal they are not so easy to see. They feed especially on crabs and crayfish, but also eat fish, mussels and small reptiles.
The Yellow-crowned Night-herons breed all year round and they often build the nest in mangrove branches above water, but also among rocks. The eggs are pale blue-green.
The Yellow-crowned Night-heron in the photos often comes to the deck at Angermeyer Waterfront Inn, and they call him Pepe.
Favorite thing: The Common Noddy belongs to the tern family and it can be found in a large part of the tropics. In Galapagos Islands there is a subspecies (Anous stolidus galapagensis).
The Common Noddy is a medium sized seabird with a length of 38-45cm and a wingspan of 75-86cm. The plumage is dark brow except the forehead and crown that is greyish-white (juveniles don’t have this cap). The bill is narrow and straight and the eyelids are white. As other terns it has pointed wings and a wedge-shaped tail. When it flies you can see that it has a pale wing-bar on the upperwing.
There are a few thousand pairs of Common Noddys in Galapagos Islands and they breed in small colonies throughout the archipelago. They build their nest on cliffs or in shrubs. Each breeding season only one egg is laid. As part of the courtship ritual they nod at each other, and I guess that is from where they have got their name.
You can often see the Common Noddy fly low over the sea, alone or in larger groups. They don’t plunge dive, but pick up food from the surface. Sometimes they can be seen together with pelicans when they try to capture fish that the pelicans drop.
The Common Noddy in the pictures was sitting on a lava rock at Tortuga Bay.
Favorite thing: In July 2011 the committees AOU and IOC voted to split the Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) found in America from the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) found in the rest of the world.
The Common Gallinule is a medium sized bird, belonging to the Rail-family. It becomes around 30-38cm long. The plumage is black with some white feathers in the tail and by the wings. It has a very characteristic bright red bill and forehead. The tip of the bill is yellow. The legs and feet are yellow with reddish upper parts.
The Common Gallinule can often be seen around brackish ponds and lagoons where they feed mostly on small insects and plants.
The Common Gallinules in the photos were seen in small lagoons at El Manzanillo and at Cerro Mesa.
- National/State Park
Favorite thing: The Painted Locust (Schistocerca melanocera) is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and it is common in the lowlands of all islands, except on Isla Española where it is not present. The Painted Locust is the largest insect on the Galapagos Islands and it can be up to 8cm long. The colour is black and bright yellow, red and green. It is a common prey for Lava Lizards and the Galapagos Hawk.
The Painted Locusts in the pictures were seen at Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora.
Favorite thing: There are two species of frigatebirds in the Galapagos Islands, the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) and the Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor). There are about 1000 pairs of the Magnificent Frigatebird spread in 12 colonies, and a few thousand pairs of the Great Frigatebird, also in 12 colonies.
The frigatebirds are large seabirds with a black plumage and long, pointed wings. The tail is deeply forked and the bill long with a hook in the end. When flying it is difficult to tell the different species apart, but the Magnificent Frigatebirds are slightly larger and the males have a purple shine on their backs, while the Great Frigatebird males have a green shine on their backs. Female Magnificent Frigatebirds have a white breast and a blue eye-ring while the female Great Frigatebirds have a white throat and breast and a red/pink eye-ring.
The males have a very characteristic red chest pouch which they inflate like a balloon to attract females. They build a nest, blow up the pouch and call out to attract a female. The males also flap the wings during the courtship.
Even though the frigatebirds are considered to be seabirds they can’t dive or swim. They don’t have enough oil gland to make their feathers waterproof. They can pick up food from the surface, but very often they steal food from other birds, mostly boobies.
The frigatebirds are beautiful to see either when they fly above the boat or when they are in their nest, maybe with a downy little with chick next to it. And the males with their inflated chest pouch are impressive to see. The frigatebirds in the pictures were seen near the Fishmarket and Angermeyer Point in Puerto Ayora, and the one flying was doing so above a small lagoon at Cerro Mesa.
Favorite thing: If you see a small bright yellow bird on the Galápagos Islands it will be a Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia). The Yellow Warbler can be found all over Galápagos Islands and in all habitats.
The male has a bright yellow breast with reddish streaks, and the upper part is more yellow-green. On top of the head there is a reddish patch. The females are usually paler than the males and they don’t have the reddish patch on the head. Juveniles are greyer and only have a little yellow in their plumage.
The Yellow Warbler feeds on insects which it finds in vegetation or on ground. It is nesting between December - May.
They move very quickly and it is not easy to get a good photo. The Yellow Warbler in picture one was standing on the pier in Puerto Ayora. The Yellow Warbler in picture two was hopping around among the rocks on the beach at El Garrapatero. Picture three and four are from the lava rocks below the pier in Puerto Ayora and the Yellow Warbler in picture five was sitting on the table in the restaurant at Rancho Primicias.
- National/State Park
Butterflies in Galapagos Islands
Favorite thing: There are several species of butterflies in the Galapagos Islands. They are important pollinators and seem to be most busy during the rainy season (Dec – May). That is when many flowers are in bloom.
I have not seen a lot of butterflies in the Galapagos Islands (2011 and 2013), and when you do see them they are never easy to take photos of. Luckily the butterfly in the photo was sitting still for a little while so that I could take a photo. It is a Monarch butterfly and I saw it at Los Gemelos (photo 1 and 2).
There are three endemic species of butterflies in Galapagos Islands and they are the Queen Butterfly, Galapagos Blue Butterfly and Large-tailed Skipper. Then there are two endemic subspecies, the Galapagos Sulfur Butterfly and the Galapagos Silver Fritillary. The Painted Lady and Monarch Butterfly are resident, and also widespread in both North- and South America.
Update July/August 2014: When I visited Galapagos Islands this year I saw lots of butterflies. The butterflies in photo 3 and 4 are Galapagos Blue Butterflies. The first one was seen along the trail to Tortuga Bay and the second one was seen at Charles Darwin Research Station.
- National/State Park
Favorite thing: The Lava Gull (Larus fuliginous) is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and it is considered to be one of the rarest gulls in the word as there are only about 400 pairs of them. In the Galapagos Islands they are widely distributed and can be seen on many islands.
The Lava Gulls have a dark grey plumage, with a paler belly. The head, bill and legs are black. The upper and lower eye-lids are white.
The Lava Gulls are omnivores and scavengers. They can feed on seabird eggs, newly hatched turtles and lizards, but sometimes they also catch fish.
Lava Gulls nest in the shore zone on sheltered beaches and they are solitary nesters. They female lay two olive-coloured eggs which are incubated for 30 days.
Photos 1 - 4 of the Lava Gulls are taken at El Garrapatero, Isla Santa Cruz and the 5th photo is from Tortuga Bay.
- National/State Park
Favorite thing: When Charles Darwin visited Galapagos Islands in 1835 he noticed that the Mockingbirds looked a bit different on different islands, and that is something that influenced his thoughts of evolution.
There are four different species of Mockingbirds and they are all endemic. One is the Charles (Floreana) Mockingbird an endangered species that can only be found on the two small islands Champion and Gardner just off Floreana. Then there is the Chatham (San Cristóbal) Mockingbird that lives on Isla San Cristóbal and it is quite uncommon. On Isla Española the Hood Mockingbird is common, and common on the other islands is the Galapagos Mockingbird. There are six subspecies of Galapagos Mockingbirds.
The mockingbirds have a grey and brown plumage with a white belly, and their length is 25-28cm. The bill is long, thin and black.
Mockingbirds can be found in dry forests- and shrubland areas. They are omnivours and often prey on seabird eggs, insects, young finches or small Lava Lizards.
The Mockingbird in the first photo was sitting in the top of an opuntia cactus at El Garrapatero. In the the other pictures are Mocking Birds that I saw along the path to Tortuga Bay.
- National/State Park
Lava Heron/Striated Heron
Favorite thing: It has been debated if the Lava Heron and the Stiated Heron are two different species or if the Lava Heron is a subspecies of the Stiated Heron. It is stil a scientific controversy, but in the checklist of birds on Charles Darwin Research Station’s web page it is listed as one species, Butorides striatus sundevalli (http://www.darwinfoundation.org/datazone/checklists/5040/).
The Lava Herons/Stiated Herons are small compact herons that are mostly found in coastal areas. I saw the heron in the first picture in Tortuga Bay and the herons in the other pictures around the pier in Puerto Ayora.
Favorite thing: The Great Egret (Ardea alba) can be found in many places around the world. In Galapagos Islands it is a resident and it can be seen on all major islands especially in coastal regions near lagoons. But sometimes it can also be seen in open areas in the highlands.
The Great Egret is a large bird with an all white plumage. The neck is long, the bill is yellow and the legs and feet are black. It becomes around 80 cm tall.
Often you see the Great Egret walking around alone, but they breed in colonies, usually in mangroves. The pairs are monogamous and both parents incubate the eggs. They often lay 3-4 eggs but strong chicks often kill weak siblings, so not all survive.
The Great Egret prey on fish, reptiles and other small animals, which they swallow whole.
The Great Egret in photos 1-3 is the first Great Egret that I have seen during my two visits to Galapagos Islands. It was walking around next to the beach at El Garrapatero, Isla Santa Cruz 2013. The Great Egret in photo 4-5 was standing in a lagoon along the trail to Las Grietas 2014.
- National/State Park
Favorite thing: There are six endemic species of geckos in Galapagos Islands and three introduced species. The geckos are active during night and can be seen in shore and arid zones, and where people live. I have only seen one gecko in Galapagos Islands and that was on the wall of my hotel room in Puerto Ayora. I have looked at pictures to see if it is the Galapagos Leaf-toed Gecko or one of the introduced ones. I can’t tell from the pictures as they all look very similar, but being an inhabited area I guess it is one of the introduced species.
Of the introduced species the Phyllodactus reissi is larger and lays more eggs than the Galapagos Leaf-toed Gecko and as they compete for the same food; moths and other insects, the introduced species is a threat.
The geckos have large dark eyes with transparent eyelids, and they have a broad head. Many geckos have toe-pads that make it possible to walk on vertical surfaces, like on the wall in the picture.
Favorite thing: Lava Lizards are endemic to the Galapagos Islands and there are seven different species. The Galapagos Lava Lizard (Microlophus Albemarlensis) can be seen on several islands, and then there are the Española Lava Lizard, Floreana Lava Lizard, Marchena Lava Lizard, Pinta Lava Lizard, Pinzón Lava Lizard and the San Cristóbal Lava Lizard. There is never more than one species on each island. The Lava Lizards are common in the dry areas near the coasts.
Lava Lizards are between 15 - 30 centimetres long, and it is the Floreana Lava Lizard that is the smallest and the Española Lava Lizard that is the longest. Colour and marking varies between species and the habitat they are living in. And like other lizards they change colour because of temperature or if they feel threatened. But in general one can say that the males are larger than the females, and often have a brighter colour with a distinct pattern. When the males are mature they are brown/black under the throat, while mature females have an orange throat.
Lava Lizards are active during the day. They are omnivores and feed on plants, but mostly eat insects. They can even eat baby lava lizards. I was lucky to see a Lava Lizard with a small one in his mouth at Tortuga Bay (photo one and two).
Photo 3: Lava Lizard along the path to Tortuga Bay
Photo 4: At Tortuga Bay
Photo 5: A Lava Lizard at Mirador de Los Tuneles, just outside Puerto Ayora.