Santa Fe Lava-Lizard

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Tropiduridae | Microlophus | Microlophus barringtonensis

Spanish common name: Lagartija de lava de Santa Fe.

Recognition: ♂♂ 28.1 cm ♀♀ 20.2 cm. Microlophus barringtonensis is the only lava lizard that occurs on Santa Fe Island. Males and females of this species differ from each other in size, shape, and coloration. Adult males are larger and easily recognizable by their raised middorsal crest. They also have a brownish body with scattered black blotches and white spots, as well as a distinctive black throat and a black chest. Adult females have bright orange cheek patches and a black mark at the shoulder level.

Natural history: Extremely common. Microlophus barringtonensis is a diurnal lizard inhabiting volcanic rock areas, dry shrublands, and deciduous forests.1 Santa Fe Lava-Lizards bask and move on soil, rocks, and cacti up to 1.7 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 individuals of M. barringtonensis probably spend the night hidden among rocks, beneath soil, and under leaf litter. Individuals of M. barringtonensis feed on insects (mainly grasshoppers3 and maggots4), Santa Fe Leaf-toed Geckos (Phyllodactylus barringtonensis), and seeds.5 When threatened, the lizards flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail and bite.1 Santa Fe Lava-Lizards are preyed upon by Central Galápagos Racers (Pseudalsophis dorsalis).1 Males defend their territories by performing pushup displays and fighting with other males.1 Females lay three eggs per clutch.4

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Conservation: Near Threatened. We consider Microlophus barringtonensis to be in this category following IUCN criteria6 because the species is not undergoing population declines nor facing major immediate threats of extinction. Santa Fe Island is not populated by humans and is protected within the Galápagos National Park. However, since the Santa Fe Lava-Lizard is restricted to a small island, it could be severely affected by random unpredictable events (like droughts and introduced species) within a short time period.

Special thanks to Ellen Smith, our official protector of the Santa Fe Lava-Lizard, for symbolically adopting this species and helping bring the Reptiles of Galápagos project to life.

Distribution: Microlophus barringtonensis is endemic to Santa Fe Island. Galápagos, Ecuador. Santa Fe is a small and relatively flat island with an area of 24 km2 and a maximum elevation of 250 m above sea level. The vegetation of the island is dominated by the palo santo tree (Bursera graveolens) and the giant prickly pear cactus.

Distribution of Microlophus barringtonensis Distribution of Microlophus barringtonensis in Santa Fe Island

Etymology: The generic name Microlophus, which comes from the Greek words mikros (meaning “small”) and lophos (meaning “crest”), refers to the reduced dorsal crest in another lava lizard species (M. peruvianus).7 The specific epithet barringtonensis refers to Santa Fe, previously known as Barrington Island.

See it in the wild: Santa Fe Lava-Lizards can be seen year-round with ~100% certainty during tourism day trips to Santa Fe Island. The best time to look for, and photograph, them is during the first hours after sunrise or right before sunset, when the lizards are active and approachable.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. 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: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Guayasamin JM (2020) Microlophus barringtonensis. 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. 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.
  4. Carpenter CC (1970) Miscellaneous notes on Galápagos lava lizards (Tropidurus: Iguanidae). Herpetologica 26: 377–386.
  5. Washington Tapia, unpublished data.
  6. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  7. Frost DR (1992) Phylogenetic analysis and taxonomy of the Tropidurus group of lizards (Iguania: Tropidurudae). American Museum Novitates 3033: 1–68.