Category Archives: Wildlife

Manteñito

Hi, my name is Manteñito and I’m a Nazca Booby. Sometimes, the other fledglings call me Big Bird. I’m pretty outgoing and enjoy getting to know new people. When the photographer took my photo I followed her down the trail and tried to start up a conversation, but my parents wouldn’t stop yelling at me until I returned. Oh well, when I get older, and can fly, I will be able to do what I want.

My parents and I live on the Escalera Trail on La Plata Island, located approximately twenty-four miles northwest of Salango, a small coastal fishing village on the Ecuadorian mainland. The Escalera Trail is a fairly urban area, as far as bird habitats are concerned. Our species always lives in colonies. Most of my relatives live on La Plata Island, either on the Machete Trail, to the west, or the Escalera Trail on the eastern part of the island. I also have quite a few relatives living in the Galapagos. The Escalera Point area is fairly quiet, so we do well here. Occasionally, we see people, but not as often as our cousins on the Machete Trail, which is the trail most tourists take on La Plata Island. The Machete Trail is only a 2.5-hour walk as opposed to Escalera’s 3.5 hour walk.

You’re probably wondering how we got our name. The “booby” part originates from the Spanish word bobo, which means fool or clown. We are an easy-going, comical type of species and our parents do this funny mating dance. All of these reasons are why they call us bobos. Nazca is a region and town in southern Peru named after the ancient Nazca culture that occupied that area between 300 B.C. and 800 A.D. It also refers to the Nazca tectonic plate under the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, to the west of South America. The northwest corner of the Nazca Plate includes the Galapagos Islands. We are named “Nazca” Boobies, because our species is located primarily in the Nazca Plate region.

Sula granti is out Latin name. For a long time, we were considered a sub-species of the Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra), but, recently, we were declared our own species. One physical difference is that we have orange beaks and the Masked Boobies have yellow beaks. Our genus name, Sula, means “valley of the birds” in the Honduran dialect of Usula. We belong to the bird family Sulidae, which is made up of boobies and gannets. We all live near the coast and are called plunge-divers because we drop down from the sky like a missile and dive anywhere from three to six feet into the water to catch our meal. Our efficient diving technique allows us to catch the fish before they even know what hit them. “Granti” probably refers to the name of a researcher who studied us. By the way, humans also have a Latin name, Homo sapiens. Homo means man and sapiens means wise or knowing.

My Older Cousin

The Nazca species is fairly united and generally lives in colonies near the sea, but fishes further offshore than, say, the Blue-footed Boobies. Our parents build our nests inland on flat unvegetated ground. So, when there are heavy rains and the plants grow like crazy, like earlier this year, real estate is at a premium. Many adults build their nests on or very close to the trail. Fortunately, the tourists are usually considerate and walk off the trail through the vegetation, around us.

After we are dropped out in the form of an egg, our parents take turns keeping us warm until we emerge, approximately forty-two days later. Of course, when we hatch we don’t know how to fly, just like humans aren’t born walking. During the time we are learning how to fly we are called fledglings, similar to how human babies are called toddlers, while they are learning to walk. In order to fly, we need to takeoff from the edge of a cliff. So, there are many well-worn paths leading to cliff edges.

Me and My Mom

Our moms usually lay two eggs. One egg is a backup, known as an “insurance” egg. If the first-born is healthy and isn’t snatched up by a local predator, such as a sea gull, it is the only chick fed and nurtured by the parents. The second hatchling only has the opportunity to live if the first-born doesn’t survive. If the first-born makes it, our unfortunate sibling is abandoned and left to die. It’s a jungle out there and, in our world, it really is survival of the fittest. On a brighter note, both our parents are dedicated to raising whoever remains until we are capable of being independent. Generally, we require 100-120 days of constant care before we can venture out on our own. As with humans, there is a high divorce rate among the Nazca species. Over 50% of Nazca females eventually end up with another mate after a few breeding seasons, so we have lots of stepbrothers and stepsisters.

Me and My Parents

A Message to My Manabi Roommate

Manabi gecko

Oh, little roommate clinging to the wall above my head

I hope your little suction cups don´t fail you

and bring you tumbling down into my bed.

There is enough room for two in this place,

but I´d appreciate if you stayed away from my face.

You’re so sweet and quiet up there on the wall,

just please, please, please don’t ever fall.

Clinging to the wall

Midnight Surprise

Large Painted Locust

It’s midnight. The lights are out. I have spent the past sixteen hours doing the types of things you don’t remember at the end of the day. Normally I would pass out from exhaustion, but a three inch long insect has just landed in my hair. Within seconds the lights are on again and I am wide awake. It is grasshopper season and it appears one of these stealthy little beasts has made it into my bedroom.

The truth is the grasshopper may have gone unnoticed had I not reached behind the bed for my mosquito net. Mosquito season has passed, but there are still a few stragglers annoyingly buzzing around my room. The grasshopper was probably comfortably nestled into the mosquito net when I pulled his resting place out from under him.

This common Galapagos grasshopper is also known as the Large Painted Locust (Schistocerca melanocera). As described in Wildlife of the Galápagos, it grows up to three and half inches and is seen most frequently after a heavy rain fall.

It is incredible how far these grasshoppers can jump. Ten feet is a piece of cake. Once they enter a room they refuse to leave. You are usually left with four choices. The first, is to leave the room. The second, is to stay in the room and watch the grasshopper distractingly jump around, occasionally landing in your hair or on your back. The third option is to catch and release the little creature. This takes perseverance. Be prepared to leave the article that you used to catch the critter outside all night. The final alternative is to put the grasshopper out of its misery. Clearly, this option should only be used if the grasshopper has been injured. I usually opt for the third choice.

My Roommate

my roommate

The other morning, I woke up and saw my roommate clinging to the upper right hand corner of my white bedroom wall. There are usually at least a few geckos residing in most Galapagos homes. Their tiny toe pads allow them to scale any slightly rough surface. Geckos are harmless and eat insects. They are also quiet and steadfast. A number of times I have left a room with a gecko anchored to the wall, only to return hours later with him still positioned in the exact same place.

Geckos are lizards belonging to the Gekkonidae family and are found in warm climates. In Galapagos, there are six endemic species (species found only in Galapagos) and three introduced species. I am quite certain that my roommate is a Phyllodactylus reissi, an Ecuadorian native gecko species introduced to Galapagos. He or his ancestors probably hitched a ride on a freight ship delivering goods from the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil. Harmless, quiet and insect-eating, my roommate could not be better.

find my roommate

Galapagos Fiestas

Little frigate bird

Last Friday, I went to watch the annual Galapagos Fiestas kickoff parade in downtown Puerto Ayora. The Fiestas are a weeklong celebration commemorating the Galapagos becoming a part of Ecuador on 12 February 1832 and when the Islands were declared a province on 18 February 1973. Coincidentally, it is also Charles Darwin’s birthday on 12 February (1809). The Fiestas begin on Friday with a parade and end on Sunday with a rodeo.

I sat on the white curb next to the cotton candy vendor, across the street from Cafe Hernan, where everyone was buying the traditional Hernan ice cream cones. I say “traditional” not because the ice cream is homemade (it is dispensed out of a machine), but because it is one of the few places where you can buy a fresh ice cream cone. The Hernan ice cream machine is a local institution, frequented by tourists and locals alike. The choices are vanilla, chocolate, mixta (a combination of both), or when available, my favorite, rum pasas (rum raisin).

Preparations for the parade and the nine days of fiestas begin weeks ahead of time. Every village chooses a beauty queen and constructs an elaborate float with a Galapagos-related theme to carry their queen. The little girl on the float, pictured above, is dressed as the familiar Galapagos frigatebird. This bird is such a prominent part of the Galapagos landscape that a local musician, Mathias Espinosa, even composed a song called Fragata Pirata (pirate frigatebird in Spanish).

There are five species of frigatebirds. The two species that live in Galapagos are the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) and the Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor ridgwayi). Both have earned their Spanish name pajaro pirata (pirate bird). They steal their food and even harass other birds until they regurgitate their recent meal. Sea lion placenta is another frigatebird staple.

A variety of activities take place during Fiesta week including various sports events. On Tuesday, there was a swimming race from La Lobería island (the sea lion rookery) to Puerto Ayora (approximately six kilometers). Yesterday, there was a swim from the island of Santa Fe, approximately 26 kilometers away, to Puerto Ayora. A friend of mine was the only women of the two people who swam the Santa Fe race. They started at 7am, and she arrived in Puerto Ayora at 5:45pm. Each person had a small boat escorting them. The people who organized the swim said a boat would arrive to supply the swimmers with food and water, but the supplies never arrived. My friend decided to continue with the little water she had and a few drinks and snacks donated from the boat operator’s personal supply. Upon her arrival, she informed the person who interviewed her about what had happened.

Live music and movies are also a part of the fiesta week. Each night a film is presented at a different location in town. One of the movies shown this year was The Motorcycle Diaries. It is a great movie about Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s life-changing motorcycle trip through South America with his friend. This past week the streets have been livelier than usual with streetvendors selling a variety of things to eat and people dancing to live music. The Galapagos Fiestas give you a nice taste of Galapagos culture.

One of Santa Cruz beauty queens

Tortuga Bay’s Playa Brava

Playa Brava

Playa Brava attracts many locals and some tourists. Brava means rough in Spanish. Especially during the day this vast white beach is dotted with iguanas and teeming with ghost crabs and a large variety of birds. The curiosity and fearlessness of the animals is one of the many characteristics that make Galapagos truly special.

 

marine iguana on the run

 

Below is one of the thirteen finch species found on Galapagos. The finches played an important role in the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Each specie has a unique adaptation depending on the type of food it eats.

Curious Finch finch visit at Tortuga

Playa Brava also attracts many local surfers.

surfing Playa Brava

 

Enchanted by Marine Iguanas

In March of last year, a marine iguana stole my heart. It all started on a bright sunny day at Darwin Beach, a small white sandy clearing frequented by locals situated in the Galapagos National Park on Santa Cruz island. After I found the perfect spot, I folded my white towel to create a cushion and laid it on the rough jet black lava rock. I sat down, placed my feet in the clear warm water and looked out at the outcropping of lava rock offshore. Several marine iguanas were sunning themselves on the miniature island and others were commuting between their islet retreat and shore. Later on, while observing the tiny spotted fish swimming around my feet, I felt a presence to my left. I turned to see a little black Jurassic face looking me straight in the eyes. As I looked at him he moved his curious head and innocently stared at me. My heart melted. He appeared to be smiling. A few seconds went by, he sniffed my towel, walked behind me and made his way down to the shore, where he slipped into the water and glided over to the lava outcropping to join his friends. It was after this experience that the marine iguana became my favorite Galapagos animal.

smiling face

The study referred to in the following blog post takes a more in-depth look at the fearless Galapagos marina iguana:

Life of marine iguanas on the Galapagos by ZDNet‘s Roland Piquepaille — The marine iguanas on the Galapagos Islands lived without predators for a very long time. But when humans arrive 150 years ago, they brought with them cats and dogs which are occasionally biting the iguanas. Still, these animals remained excessively tamed. With the explosion of the number of tourists on these protected islands, researchers from Germany and the U.S. recently to measure the levels of stress of these marine iguanas by chasing them (gently), capturing them and analyzing their blood to see how they reacted. Initially, the ‘naive’ iguanas didn’t move until the scientists were at less than one meter from them. But the researchers were still able to ‘capture the same animals up to six times in four weeks.’ Maybe this is the end of the good life for these iguanas.

Wildlife of the Galápagos by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter & David Hoskings gives a great overview of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos Islands. This handy book clearly describes and illustrates the seven species of Galapagos marine iguanas, “the world’s only sea-going lizard [s].”