Pinzón Lava-Lizard

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Tropiduridae | Microlophus | Microlophus duncanensis

Spanish common name: Lagartija de lava de Pinzón.

Recognition: ♂♂ 26.8 cm ♀♀ 21.4 cm. Microlophus duncanensis is the only lava lizard occurring on Pinzón Island. Males and females of this species differ from each other in size, shape, and coloration. Unlike other lava lizards, the females of M. duncanensis are more brightly colored than the males. They have a striking reddish-orange coloration that covers most of their body. Adult males have a dull reddish brown body and a black throat. They may be recognized by their larger size and raised middorsal crest.

Natural history: Extremely common. Microlophus duncanensis is a diurnal, terrestrial to semiarboreal lizard inhabiting dry grasslands and deciduous forests.1 Pinzón Lava-Lizards bask and forage on soil, rocks, and shrubs up to 1.5 m above the ground.1 They move into the shade under bushes or lava blocks in order to avoid the hottest hours of the day.2 During rains, the lizards seek refuge under rocks and shrubs, later drinking water that collects on the surface of leaves and rocks.1 When threatened, individuals of M. duncanensis flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail and bite.1 Pinzón Lava-Lizards are preyed upon by native predators such as Pinzón Racers (Pseudalsophis slevini) and hawks as well as (formerly) by introduced black rats.1,3 Members of this species are generalist foragers that feed on beetles, grubs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and plant material such as fruits and seeds.2,4 Males defend their territory by performing pushup displays.5

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Conservation: Vulnerable. We consider Microlophus duncanensis to be in this category following IUCN criteria6 because the species is restricted to an island of only 18 km2 and, thus, it is prone to be affected by random unpredictable events (like droughts and introduced species) within a short time period. Pinzón Lava-Lizards faced predation by rats for nearly 200 years,7 but the species now has (presumably) healthy population numbers in a rat-free island protected within the Galápagos National Park.

Distribution: Microlophus duncanensis is endemic to the 18 km2 area of Pinzón Island. Galápagos, Ecuador.

Distribution of Microlophus duncanensis Distribution of Microlophus duncanensis in Pinzón 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).8 The specific epithet duncanensis refers to Pinzón, previously known as Duncan Island.9 The island was originally named after Adam Duncan, a British admiral famous for defeating a Dutch fleet in 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars, an action considered one of the most significant victories in naval history.10

See it in the wild: Pinzón Island is inaccessible to tourism. Researchers and members of the Galápagos National Park may visit the habitat of Microlophus duncanensis, but only in the context of a scientific expedition or a conservation agenda.

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: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Guayasamin JM (2020) Microlophus duncanensis. 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. 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.
  3. Ortiz-Catedral L, Christian E, Skirrow MJA, Rueda D, Sevilla C, Kumar K, Reyes EMR, Daltry JC (2019) Diet of six species of Galapagos terrestrial snakes (Pseudalsophis spp.) inferred from faecal samples. Herpetology Notes 12: 701–704.
  4. 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.
  5. Clark DL, Macedonia JM, Rowe JW, Stuart MA, Kemp DJ, Ord TJ (2015) Evolution of displays in Galápagos lava lizards: comparative analyses of signallers and robot playbacks to receivers. Animal Behavior 109: 33–44.
  6. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  7. Pritchard PCH (1996) The Galápagos tortoises. Nomenclatural and survival status. Chelonian Research Monographs 1: 1–85.
  8. Frost DR (1992) Phylogenetic analysis and taxonomy of the Tropidurus group of lizards (Iguania: Tropidurudae). American Museum Novitates 3033: 1–68.
  9. 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.
  10. Laughton JK (1888) Duncan, Adam. In: Leslie S (Ed) Dictionary of national biography. Smith, Elder, and Co., London, 159–161.