Published October 10, 2019. Updated January 19, 2024. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Isabela Lava-Lizard (Microlophus albemarlensis)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Tropiduridae | Microlophus albemarlensis

English common names: Isabela Lava-Lizard, Galápagos Lava-Lizard.

Spanish common names: Lagartija de lava de Isabela, lagartija de lava de Galápagos.

Recognition: ♂♂ 30.5 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.1 cm. ♀♀ 20.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=7.0 cm..1,2 Lava lizards differ from other lizards by having keeled scales on the tail, a skin fold above the shoulder, a raised mid-dorsal crest, and a conspicuously enlarged interparietal scale. Microlophus albemarlensis is the only lava lizard occurring on Isabela and Fernandina islands and on at least six of their surrounding islets. Males and females of this species differ from each other in size, shape, and coloration. Adult males are larger and are easily recognizable by their raised middorsal crest.1 They also have a distinctive black throat. Adult females usually have bright orange cheek patch and a black mark at the shoulder level (Fig. 1).1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Microlophus albemarlensis

Figure 1: Individuals of Microlophus albemarlensis from Galápagos, Ecuador: Tagus Cove, Isabela Island (); Punta Espinosa, Fernandina Island (). j=juvenile.

Natural history: Microlophus albemarlensis is a diurnal lizard that occurs in high densities in volcanic rock areas, dry shrublands, dry grasslands, deciduous forests, introduced vegetation, and urban areas.1 Isabela Lava-Lizards bask, forage, and move on soil, rocks, and trunks up to 5.6 m above the ground.1 They move into the shade to avoid the hottest hours of the day, sitting on surfaces that have not been heated by the sun. At night, they remain hidden among rocks, beneath soil, and under leaf-litter.1 The diet is omnivorous and includes roaches, grasshoppers, flies, crabs, fruits, and seeds.16 When threatened, Isabela Lava-Lizards flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail and bite.1 There are recorded instances of predation on members of this species, including by cats7 and snakes (Pseudalsophis occidentalis).8 Males defend their territories by performing pushup displays and fighting with other males.2 Clutches consist 1–2 eggs.9

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..9 Microlophus albemarlensis is listed in this category because, although it is facing the threat of predation by feral cats,7 the species is widespread on both Isabela and Fernandina islands and has not been conclusively shown to have undergone population declines.9

Distribution: Microlophus albemarlensis is endemic to an area of approximately 4,820 km2 in western Galápagos, Ecuador. Isabela Lava-Lizards occur on Isabela and Fernandina islands, as well as on at least six of their surrounding islets, including Cowley, Cuatro Hermanos, Las Tintoreras, Marielas Sur, Punta Mangle, and Tortuga (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Microlophus albemarlensis in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Microlophus albemarlensis in Ecuador. The star corresponds to the type locality: Tagus Cove. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Microlophus comes from the Greek words mikros (=small) and lophos (=crest).10,11 The specific epithet albemarlensis refers to Isabela Island, previously known as Albemarle Island.1

See it in the wild: Individuals of Microlophus albemarlensis can be seen year-round with almost complete certainty throughout their area of distribution, including most tourism sites on Isabela and Fernandina islands. The best time to look for, and photograph, Isabela Lava-Lizards is during the first hours after sunrise or right before sunset, when the lizards are active and approachable.

Special thanks to Michael Lavery for symbolically adopting the Isabela Lava-Lizard and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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Authors: Alejandro Arteaga,aAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. Gabriela Aguiar,bIndependent researcher, Quito, Ecuador. and Juan M GuayasamincAffiliation: Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewers: Edgar Benavides,dAffiliation: Yale University, New Have, USA. John Rowe,eAffiliation: Alma College, Alma, USA. and Cruz MárquezfAffiliation: University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy.

Photographers: Jose VieiragAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,hAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardogAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G, Guayasamin JM (2024) Isabela Lava-Lizard (Microlophus albemarlensis). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/TFQX6072

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. DOI: 10.47051/AQJU7348
  2. Clark DL, Macedonia JM, Gillingham JC, Rowe JW, Kane HJ, Valle CA (2016) Why does conspecific display recognition differ among species of Galápagos lava lizards? A test using lizard robots. Herpetologica 72: 47–54. DOI: 10.1655/HERPETOLOGICA-D-15-00040
  3. Stebbins RC, Lowenstein JM, Cohen NW (1967) A field study of the lava lizard (Tropidurus albemarlensis) in the Galápagos Islands. Ecology 48: 839–851. DOI: 10.2307/1933742
  4. Lewbart GA, Valle CA, Muñoz-Perez JP (2017) Microlophus indefatigabilis (Lava Lizard) diet. Herpetological Review 48: 851–852.
  5. Carpenter CC (1970) Miscellaneous notes on Galápagos lava lizards (Tropidurus: Iguanidae). Herpetologica 26: 377–386.
  6. Hervías-Parejo S, Heleno R, Rumeu B, Guzmán B, Vargas P, Olesen JM, Traveset A, Vera C, Benavides E, Nogales M (2018) Small size does not restrain frugivory and seed dispersal across the evolutionary radiation of Galápagos lava lizards. Current Zoology 65: 353–361. DOI: 10.1093/cz/zoy066
  7. Konecny MJ (1987) Food habits and energetics of feral house cats in the Galápagos Islands. Oikos 50: 24–32. DOI: 10.2307/3565398
  8. Merlen G, Thomas RA (2013) A Galápagos ectothermic terrestrial snake gambles a potential chilly bath for a protein-rich dish of fish. Herpetological Review 44: 415–417.
  9. Márquez C, Yánez-Muñoz M, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Microlophus albemarlensis. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T177934A1499883.en
  10. Frost DR (1992) Phylogenetic analysis and taxonomy of the Tropidurus group of lizards (Iguania: Tropidurudae). American Museum Novitates 3033: 1–68.
  11. Peters WCH (1871) Über einige Arten der herpetologischen Sammlung des Berliner zoologischen Museums. Monatsberichte der Königlichen Preussische Akademie des Wissenschaften zu Berlin 1871: 644–652.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Microlophus albemarlensis in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorGalápagosAlcedo Volcano, SW rimArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosAntonio GilArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosBahía ElizabethBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosBahía UrvinaBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCabo Albemarle, 6 km W ofArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCabo DouglasBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCabo Douglas–Punta EspinosaBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCabo HammondBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCabo MarshallBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCabo RosaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCaldera de AlcedoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCaleta San PedroBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCaleta WebbBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCampamento CopianoBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCampamento Copiano, 2 km S ofArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCape Berkeley, environs ofFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosCartago BayKizirian et al. 2004
EcuadorGalápagosCartago Bay, 6 NW ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosCazuelaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCerro AzulArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCerro BallenaBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosCerro BarahonaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCinco CerrosArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCrater of Sierra NegraVan Denburgh and Slevin 1913
EcuadorGalápagosCumbre de Cerro AzulArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosEl EsteroArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosEl Mango, 5 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosEstern base of Darwin VolcanoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosFoot of Wolf Volcano (from Banks Bay)Fritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosIguana CoveFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosIguana Cove, 4 km S ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosInland from Roca UniónArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosIsla Cuatro HermanosBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosIslote CowleyBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosIslote Crater Beagle 1Benavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosIslote Crater Beagle 2Benavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosIslote Crater Beagle 3Benavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosIslote Las TintorerasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosIslote Punta MangleBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosIslote South MarielasBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosLa Cumbre volcanoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosLa Cumbre, SE slopeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosLa PlayitaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosLas AlbacorasArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosLava flow going up Darwin VolcanoFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosMinas de AzufreiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosMuro de las lagrimasArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPlaya Tortuga NegraHervías-Parejo 2018
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto BravoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto VillamilArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPunta AlbemarleBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPunta AlfaroBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPunta EspinosaKizirian et al. 2004
EcuadorGalápagosPunta MangleBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPunta MorenoBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosPunta MorenoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosPunta Moreno, 5 km E ofiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosPunta Vicente RocaBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosRim of Sierra Negra craterArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTagus Cove, 2.4 km E ofBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosTagus Cove*Baur 1890
EcuadorGalápagosTortuga islet (Brattle)Benavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to Alcedo, km 1Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to Alcedo, km 10Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to Alcedo, km 2.4Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to Alcedo, km 4.5Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to Alcedo, km 7Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to Muro de las LágrimasArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosUrbina Bay, 14 km SE ofArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosVillamil, 3 km N ofArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosVolcán Alcedo, western slopesBenavides et al. 2009
EcuadorGalápagosVolcán ChicoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosVolcán la Cumbre Rim, 4 km SE ofArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosVolcán WolfArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano, Camp 1Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano, Camp 2Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano, Camp 3Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosWolf Volcano, northern rimArteaga et al. 2019