Out trip to find Isla Santiago‘s lava lizard (Microlophus jacobi) started on the 15th of December 2019 with a four and half hour’s boat trip to Playa Espumilla. Santiago island, also known as James island, is a non-populated island and the home of other emblematic Galapagos species like the Galapagos hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), Santiago racer (Pseudalsophis Hephaestus), Santiago rice rats (Nesorysomys swarthi) and Santiago giant-tortoise (Chelonoidis darwini).
We spent our first night on the island at our campsite which we set up near the beach – not a good idea thanks to biting insects. Early the next day we went for a walk to survey the area and establish our study site. We were impressed to find a Galapagos hawk juvenile near the entrance of the Flamingo lagoon, which used to be a touristic spot many years ago. Now days, this island is no longer allowing touristic activities to avoid any human impact go further than it already has.
The landscape in Santiago changes from the shore with white sand, a dried lagoon (due to the season), and different species of mangroves.
The highlands are characterised by volcanic rocks, brownish dirt, small bushes, and big “palo santo” trees.
Although, Santiago is a non-touristic island, finding lizards was hard. It turns out that the population was quite small, which was a little disappointing. However, we realized this could be due to the considerable population of rats living in our research area, as well as an abundance of Galapagos hawks. Like other Galapagos lava lizards, M. jacobi exhibits sexual dimorphism in size and colour. The males are bigger than the ones we studied in San Cristobal and Floreana islands, however, they are not so active and spent most of the time basking and foraging. Despite this, we were able to carry on all our activities.
After a week of arduous fieldwork, we finish our data collection and jumped in our little boat and made our way back to Santa Cruz island.
At least the mandatory 3-day quarantine gave us a well-earned rest, fresh food and a hot bath!