Isabela Lava-Lizard

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Tropiduridae | Microlophus | 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 cm ♀♀ 20.2 cm. 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. They also have a distinctive black throat. Adult females usually have bright orange cheek patches and a black mark at the shoulder level.

Natural history: Extremely common. Microlophus albemarlensis is a diurnal lizard species that inhabits 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. Like other lava lizards,2 they probably spend the night hidden among rocks, beneath soil, and under leaf litter. Individuals of M. albemarlensis are omnivorous: they feed on roaches, grasshoppers, flies, crabs, members of their species, fruits, and seeds.15 When threatened, Isabela Lava-Lizards flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail and bite.1 The lizards are preyed upon by cats and Western Galápagos Racers (Pseudalsophis occidentalis).6,7 Males defend their territories by performing pushup displays and fighting with other males.8 Females lay one or two eggs per clutch.9

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Conservation: Least Concern.9 Microlophus albemarlensis is listed in this category because, although it is facing the threat of predation by feral cats,7 this lizard 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 estimated 4,820 km2 area 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.

Distribution of Microlophus albemarlensis Distribution of Microlophus albemarlensis in western Galápagos

Etymology: The generic name Microlophus, which comes from the Greek words mikros (meaning “small”) and lophos (meaning “crest”), refers to the reduced dorsal crest of another lava lizard species (M. peruvianus).10 The specific epithet albemarlensis refers to Isabela Island,11 previously known as Albemarle Island.

See it in the wild: Individuals of Microlophus albemarlensis can be seen year-round with ~100% 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: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. Gabriela Aguiar, and Juan M GuayasaminbAffiliation: Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: Galapagos Science Center, Galápagos, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewers: Edgar Benavides, John Rowe, and Cruz Márquez.

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardoaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G, Guayasamin JM (2020) Microlophus albemarlensis. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from:

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Stebbins RC, Lowenstein JM, Cohen NW (1967) A field study of the lava lizard (Tropidurus albemarlensis) in the Galápagos Islands. Ecology 48: 839–851.
  3. Lewbart GA, Valle CA, Muñoz-Perez JP (2017) Microlophus indefatigabilis (Lava Lizard) diet. Herpetological Review 48: 851–852.
  4. Carpenter CC (1970) Miscellaneous notes on Galápagos lava lizards (Tropidurus: Iguanidae). Herpetologica 26: 377–386.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Konecny MJ (1987) Food habits and energetics of feral house cats in the Galápagos Islands. Oikos 50: 24–32.
  8. 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.
  9. Márquez C, Yánez-Muñoz M, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Microlophus albemarlensis. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from:
  10. Frost DR (1992) Phylogenetic analysis and taxonomy of the Tropidurus group of lizards (Iguania: Tropidurudae). American Museum Novitates 3033: 1–68.
  11. Baur G (1890) Das Variieren der Eidechsen-Gattung Tropidurus auf den Galápagos Inseln und Bemerkungen über den Ursprung der Inselgruppe. Biologisches Centralblatt 10: 475–483.