Published October 10, 2019. Updated December 16, 2023. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Galápagos Land-Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Iguanidae | Conolophus subcristatus

English common name: Galápagos Land-Iguana.

Spanish common name: Iguana terrestre de Galápagos.

Recognition: ♂♂ 107 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=60 cm. ♀♀ 91.8 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=50 cm..1,2 Conolophus subcristatus is one of four species of iguanas in the Galápagos Islands. It is generally the only land-dwelling iguana wherever it occurs. On Wolf Volcano on northern Isabela Island, it coexists with the distinctively colored Pink Iguana (C. marthae), from which it differs by having a yellowish coloration and no black bands (Fig. 1). In coastal areas of some islands, the territory of the Galápagos Land-Iguana approaches the habitat of the Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus), a reptile that has a blunt snout, a laterally flattened tail adapted to swimming, and a distinct, usually blackish, background color.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Conolophus subcristatus

Figure 1: Individuals of Conolophus subcristatus from Galápagos, Ecuador: Plaza Sur Island (); Seymour Norte Island ().

“Like their brothers the sea-kind, they are ugly animals, of a yellowish orange beneath, and of a brownish red colour above: from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.”

Charles Darwin, 1835.3

Natural history: Conolophus subcristatus is a diurnal iguana that inhabits dry shrublands, dry grasslands, deciduous forests, and volcanic rock areas if there is vegetation nearby.1 Galápagos Land-Iguanas are terrestrial to semi-arboreal and feed mostly on, and obtain water from,1 cacti, grasses, and the leaves of trees. Their diet also includes berries, seeds, crabs, crickets, grasshoppers, carrion, and shed skin.4 These reptiles are most active between 8:00–10:00 am and 3:00–6:00 pm.4 When not active, they retreat into burrows, under thick vegetation, or in crevices in the lava rocks.5 Galápagos Land-Iguanas, especially juveniles, are preyed upon by introduced predators such as pigs, dogs, cats, and rats, as well as by native predators such as hawks and snakes (Pseudalsophis dorsalis and P. occidentalis).1,2 When threatened, these fast and wary reptiles run into burrows, vegetation, and crevices. They may also open their mouths aggressively if cornered. Adult females compete fiercely over nesting sites and are capable of traveling for up to 40 km to arrive at suitable nesting grounds.6 They dig holes in sandy soil4 and lay 8–22 eggs6 that take nearly four months to hatch.7 Adult males defend their territories by bobbing their heads or fighting with intruders.6 The Galápagos Land-Iguana is known to hybridize with the Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) on Plaza Sur Island.8 Members of C. subcristatus are estimated to live up to 70 years.7

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Conservation: Vulnerable Considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the mid-term future..9 Conolophus subcristatus is listed in this category given that the entire population is estimated to be composed of less than 10,000 mature individuals,2 many subpopulations are either extinct (Santiago and Rábida islands)7 or nearly extinct (most of Santa Cruz and southern Isabela Island),2 and the species faces the threat of invasive predators.7

“The individuals, and they are the greater number, which inhabit the lower country, can scarcely taste a drop of water throughout the year; but they consume much of the succulent cactus, the branches of which are occasionally broken off by the wind.”

Charles Darwin, 1835.1

Distribution: Conolophus subcristatus is endemic to an area of approximately 5,401 km2 in Galápagos, Ecuador (Fig. 2). Galápagos Land-Iguanas occur on Baltra, Isabela, Fernandina, Seymour Norte, Plaza Sur, and Santa Cruz islands (Fig. 3). The species has been re-introduced to Santiago Island and extirpated from Rábida Island.

Distribution of Conolophus subcristatus in Galápagos

Figure 2: Distribution of Conolophus subcristatus in Galápagos. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Distribution of Conolophus subcristatus in Santa Cruz Island

Figure 3: Distribution of Conolophus subcristatus in Santa Cruz Island. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Conolophus comes from the Greek words konos (=cone) and lophos (=crest),10 and refers to the cone-like scales that compose the dorsal crest in species of this genus. The specific epithet subcristatus comes from the Latin words sub (=less than), crista (=ridge), and the suffix -atus (=provided with).10 It refers to the comparatively small dorsal crest of this species.1

See it in the wild: The easiest places to see Galápagos Land-Iguanas are Plaza Sur and Seymour Norte islands. At these tourism sites, individuals of Conolophus subcristatus can be seen year-round with almost complete certainty.

Special thanks to Shannon DeVaney and Kathryn Tosney for symbolically adopting the Galápagos Land-Iguana and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

Click here to adopt a species.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Juan M GuayasaminbAffiliation: Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewer: Miguel VencescAffiliation: Technische Universität Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany.

Photographers: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Jose VieiradAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Guayasamin JM (2023) Galápagos Land-Iguana (Conolophus subcristatus). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/CAND9772

Literature cited:

  1. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Tapia W, Guayasamin JM (2019) Reptiles of the Galápagos: Life on the Enchanted Islands. Tropical Herping, Quito, 208 pp.
  2. Márquez CM, Muñoz EA, Gentile G, Tapia WH, Zabala FJ, Naranjo SA, Llerena AJ (2010) Estado poblacional de las iguanas terrestres (Conolophus subcristatus, C. pallidus, y C. marthae: Squamata, Iguanidae), Islas Galápagos. Boletín Técnico, Serie Zoológica 6: 25–43.
  3. Darwin CR (1845) Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. Fitz-Roy, R.N. John Murray, London, 519 pp.
  4. Carpenter CC (1969) Behavioral and ecological notes on the Galápagos land iguanas. Herpetologica 25: 155–164.
  5. Van Denburgh J, Slevin JR (1913) Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences to the Galápagos Islands, 1905-1906. IX. The Galapagoan lizards of the genus Tropidurus with notes on iguanas of the genera Conolophus and Amblyrhynchus. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 2: 132–202.
  6. Werner DI (1983) Reproduction in the iguana Conolophus subcristatus on Fernandina Island, Galápagos: clutch size and migration costs. The American Naturalist 121: 757–775.
  7. Snell HL, Snell HM, Tracy CR (1984) Variation among populations of Galápagos land iguanas (Conolophus): contrasts of phylogeny and ecology. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 21: 185–207. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.1984.tb02061.x
  8. Rassmann K, Trillmich F, Tautz D (1997) Hybridization between the Galápagos land and marine iguana (Conolophus subcristatus and Amblyrhynchus cristatus) on Plaza Sur. Journal of Zoology 242: 729–739. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1997.tb05822.x
  9. Kumar K, Gentile G, Grant TD (2020) Conolophus subcristatus. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T5240A3014082.en
  10. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Conolophus subcristatus in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

EcuadorGalápagosBahía ElizabethGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosBaltraArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosBaltra airportArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosBanks BayVan Denburgh 1913
EcuadorGalápagosCabo DouglasTraveset et al 2016
EcuadorGalápagosCape BerkeleyCAS 11490; VertNet
EcuadorGalápagosCartago BayWerner 1983
EcuadorGalápagosCazuelaMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosCerro ColoradoSnell et al 1984
EcuadorGalápagosCerro DragónConstantini et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCerro GrandeMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosCerro MonturaConstantini et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCerro PalomaMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosConway BayMVZ 67726; VertNet
EcuadorGalápagosCráter BeagleMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosCrater of La CumbreArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCrater of Wolf VolcanoGentile et al 2016
EcuadorGalápagosCueva NorteGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosE Slope of Sierra NegraMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosE Tortuga BaySnell et al 1984
EcuadorGalápagosEl GarrapateroVan Denburgh 1913
EcuadorGalápagosEnsenada Buccaneer (reintroducida)Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosEstación Charles DarwinArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosInland from Bahía UrbinaMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosInland from Cueva NorteMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosItabaca–Baltra airport 1Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosItabaca–Baltra airport 2Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosJames BayDarwin 1839
EcuadorGalápagosLa Cumbre volcanoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosN Slope of Cerro Azul Volcano AMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosN Slope of Cerro Azul Volcano BMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosN Slope of Sierra NegraMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosNW rim of Wolf VolcanoGiambattista & Gentile 2018
EcuadorGalápagosPiedras BlancasGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPlaza SurArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto BravoGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto Nuevo (reintroducida)Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto VillamilGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPunta EspinosaOMNH 40552.0; VertNet
EcuadorGalápagosPunta Espinosa, 3 miles N ofLACM 19386; VertNet
EcuadorGalápagosPunta GarcíaMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosRábidaGiambattista & Gentile 2018
EcuadorGalápagosRoca LimbaGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosSE Alcedo VolcanoSnell et al 1984
EcuadorGalápagosSE Darwin VolcanoSnell et al 1984
EcuadorGalápagosSeymour NorteCM 17076; VertNet
EcuadorGalápagosSW Cape BerkeleyFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosTagus coveCAS 11274; VertNet
EcuadorGalápagosUrbinaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosVeneciaGentile et al 2009
EcuadorGalápagosVolcán ChicoMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosW Slope of Darwin VolcanoMárquez et al 2010
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano Camp 2Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano Camp 3Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano Camp 4Arteaga et al. 2019