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Nazca booby and vampire finch
31/10/2013 Wildlife facts

Halloween horrors of Galapagos!

Despite being known for its gentle giant tortoises, placid penguins, mild-mannered marine iguanas and sleepy sea lions, the Galapagos Islands are also host to some altogether more forbidding species.

Photograph of Pete Haskell

Pete Haskell

Former Communications Officer at Galapagos Conservation Trust

Here’s a list of the top five Halloween horrors of Galapagos:

1. Vampire Finch – Geospiza difficilis septentrionalis

A subspecies of the sharp-beaked ground finch, this small bird is only found in the north of Galapagos on the islands of Wolf and Darwin. Due to the relatively dry conditions experienced in these locations, the vampire finch has evolved a unique method of gaining supplementary liquid and protein into its diet whereby it will peck at the legs, wings and tail of birds and feed on their blood. The three booby species found in the archipelago are the regular targets of vampire finches, with adults, chicks and even eggs coming under attack.

2. Galapagos Spiders

There are over 150 species of spider found in Galapagos, 60% of which occur nowhere else on Earth. Species include:

  • Galapagos black widow – Latrodectus apicalis – as a member of the black widow genus this spider has a powerful venom which it uses to kill its prey. There are no records of a human having been bitten but it is probably best avoided.
  • Giant huntsman – Heteropoda venatoria – with a leg span up to 9 cm, these spiders are common in Galapagos and can often be seen in hotels where they are welcomed as natural pest controllers.
  • Silver argiope – Argiope argentata – this web-building spider can often be seen sitting in the middle of its web with its legs paired in the shape of an X.


Silver argiope spider in Galapagos

3. Darwin’s goliath centipede – Scolopendra galapagensis

Growing up to 43 centimetres, this is one of the largest centipedes in the world, and is probably the most feared animal in the Archipelago. It is common in the arid zones, residing in cracks and crevices during the day and coming out to hunt at night. It preys on insects, lizards and even small birds, inflicting a poisonous bite with a large pair of jaws. It is preyed upon by the Galapagos hawk, night heron and mockingbirds. It’s bite is not lethal to humans but it is very painful.

Darwin's goliath centipede in Galapagos
Darwin's goliath centipede © Janette Schubert

4. Galapagos Scorpions

Two species of scorpion can be found on the islands, the endemic Centruroides exsul and an endemic subspecies of the common yellow scorpion Hadruroides maculatus. Both are relatively common but neither has a particularly serious sting for humans. They are nocturnal hunters, preying on other invertebrates which they seize in their claws and sting to death.

Galapagos scorpion
Galapagos scorpion (Hadruroides maculatus galapagoensis) © Ruben Heleno / CDF

5. Galapagos snakes

There are four snake species in Galapagos, all of which live in the coastal and arid zones. All have weak venom so primarily use constriction to kill their prey which include lava lizards, geckos, rice rats, finches and seabird chicks.

Galapagos racer snake
Galapagos racer snake © Luis Ortiz-Catedral
Large ground finch

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