Santa Fe expedition report

Articles | Trip reports

By Alejandro Arteaga and Lucas Bustamante. June 2018.

On June 8th, 2017, our team at Tropical Herping joined an expedition to Santa Fe Island in the Galápagos Archipelago to photograph its endemic species for the Reptiles of Ecuador book project. The expedition was organized by Washington Tapia from Galapagos Conservancy and carried out with assistance from the Galápagos National Park, while the Universidad San Francisco de Quito partly funded the logistics to have our team join the trip. Although an expedition of this sort requires each of tis participants to be included in a research permit issued by the national park and to leave all gear in quarantine for three days prior and after the travel dates, it is possible to visit the island for a day during normal cruise itineraries, like the one we offer at the 100 species herping tour.

At 09:00, we departed from Santa Cruz in a motorized boat. After 40 minutes, we arrived at Santa Fe and started to set up the campsite. The camping site was chosen by Washington Tapia to allow our team the best opportunities to find the island's endemic reptiles.

Santa Fe landscape

Santa Fe Island is only 24 square kilometers and is mostly a barren, volcanic landscape dominated by small shrubs and cacti. Therefore, it was critical to bring appropriate walking shoes. The shoes locally known as lonas venus proved to be the most comfortable.

Conolophus pallidus

After the giant tortoises of Santa Fe Island became extinct, the Santa Fe Land-Iguanas (Conolophus pallidus) became the dominant herbivores of the island. It is estimated that their population is around 6,500 individuals. Therefore, they are easily encountered, specially close to isolated patches of shrubs where they hide when threatened, like the individual in the picture above.

Microlophus barringtonensis

Santa Fe Lava-Lizards (Microlophus barringtonensis) are extremely common all over the island. They are easier to approach and photograph in-situ when they begin their activity shortly after 06h10, or when they are about to finish their foraging activities at 17:30. In this period, their colors look warmer because daylight is redder and softer than when the sun is higher in the sky.

Conolophus pallidus

Just like the lava lizards, the iguanas are easier to approach early in the morning or right after sunset. The exception being when the day is cloudy, which was the case for the picture of the iguana above, photographed using a wide-angle lens positioned within a few feet from the iguana.

Phyllodactylus barringtonensis

The first two hours of the night were the best to find Santa Fe Leaf-toed Geckos (Phyllodactylus barringtonensis). The majority of them were active on rocky outcrops, but some, like the one picture above, were active among the dry bark of cacti.

Pseudalsophis dorsalis

We found ten individuals of the Central Galápagos Racer (Pseudalsophis dorsalis), many thanks to the assistance of the park rangers. The majority of them were found right after sunrise, when they were easier to approach. Later in the day, when the temperature increased, the snakes were harder to find and much harder to approach. We were surprised to find one individual active at 21:00, since they are supposedly diurnal snakes.

Amblyrhynchus cristatus

Unlike the iguanas of larger islands, the Marine Iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) of Santa Fe are smaller, more jittery and restricted to certain rocky outcrops, rather than being widespread along the coast. Thanks to information provided by the park rangers, we managed to find the best places to photograph them.

Microlophus barringtonensis

Overall, the expedition was a complete success. We managed to photograph all five extant species of reptiles of the island. In the process, we learned that most of them area easier to approach right after sunrise or before sunset, and that having assistance from the national park is critical to find the best spots to set up camp and to photograph the elusive snakes.

Join our newsletter if you want to receive free updates about our photo articles and tours.