Skip navigation
29/09/2014 Wildlife facts

Of Vampires on Wolf (but this is no Twilight novel!)

On this remote volcano, these cute little birds have changed. These finches have evolved. These finches are vampires.

Photograph of Simon Pierce

Simon Pierce

Dr Simon Pierce leads the global whale shark research and conservation programme at Marine Megafauna Foundation, and is part of the Galapagos Whale Shark Project team.

The Galapagos Islands are renowned as a crucible for evolution. Famously, the ancestral finch species, following its arrival from South America, radiated and adapted to the varying environmental conditions available on the different islands. Fourteen species are now found through the archipelago. On Santa Cruz, where I started my Galapagos journey, these birds are small, friendly and ubiquitous.

Blog, Finch ©Simon Pierce

So innocent looking…but wait…

Blog, Wolf Island ©Simon Pierce

Looking down to our landing site on Wolf Island.

Santa Cruz was large, wet and forested. Wolf Island, in the far north of the archipelago, struck me as a very different place. Wolf lies 140 kilometres north of the main islands, created by a different volcanic system. It is tiny, less than three kilometres in size. The island is closed to visitors and rarely visited even by park staff or scientists: the first landing was in 1964, with the aid of a helicopter. On this remote volcano, these cute little birds have changed. These finches have evolved. These finches are vampires.

Blog, Vampire Finch ©Simon Pierce

I know, I know, vampires are so 2008, but these little bloodsuckers have been around somewhat longer. They are a subspecies of the sharp-beaked ground finch, found on several islands. On Wolf, a lack of natural water sources mean the island is extremely dry for most of the year. The best source of fluid available? Blood.

Nazca Booby ©Simon Pierce

Nazca boobies nest in abundance on the island, their permanently quizzical countenance greeting us in the hundreds upon arrival.

Blog, Nazca Booby ©Simon Pierce

The finches flit amongst them, occasionally landing on their folded wings, whereupon they start pecking.

Blog, Vampires Finch ©Simon Pierce

The blood flows freely over the boobies’ white plumage. Multiple finches were sometimes taking turns to lap it up.

Blog, Nazca Booby with wound ©Simon Pierce

Although it looks macabre, to put it lightly, the boobies did not appear overly troubled. In fact, they barely seemed to notice the finches. This blood-drinking behaviour is thought to have evolved from the finches pecking out parasites, so perhaps the boobies haven’t cottoned on to the finches changing the arrangement.

All in all, an interesting afternoon. The harsh terrestrial environment of the Galapagos has led to some fascinating adaptations amongst the animals that call it home. I’m looking forward to exploring these further in posts to come!

Jonathan and Simon gratefully appreciate the Galapagos National Park authorities granting them a permit to land on Wolf. This photographic expedition was sponsored by a grant from the GLC Charitable Trust to the Marine Megafauna Foundation, and supported by the Galapagos Conservation Trust. Thanks to the crew of the Queen Mabel for all their help over this two week trip.  

Related articles

Floreana mockingbird
3rd Oct 2023
Island restoration Rewilding

12 missing species set to return to Floreana

Today is the day when the next phase of the restoration of Floreana island begins, as the project moves into the eradication phase, the largest and most complex eradication ever attempted on an inhabited tropical island.
Read more
Little vermilion flycatcher
27th Apr 2022
Events Island restoration

Protecting the Birds of Galapagos webinar 2022

Our webinar focussed on some of the most urgent issues facing Galapagos land birds, and the great steps that have been taken to tackle the threats and restore the biodiversity that we have lost. 
Read more
19th Jan 2021
Wildlife facts

Vampire finches: how little birds in Galapagos evolved to drink blood

For most people, the word “vampire” brings to mind Dracula or perhaps slayers such as Blade or Buffy; or maybe even the vampire bats of South America. Few will think of a small and rather lovely bird – the finch.
Read more
11th Mar 2020
Invasive species Island restoration

Protecting Floreana’s finches – Restoring Floreana update

Our partners on the Restoring Floreana programme have started trials to determine how best to protect these, and other native species found on the island, from poison bait when the eradication section of the programme occurs to remove invasive...
Read more

Get the latest news from Galapagos

Join our mailing list to receive our monthly email newsletter, bringing you the latest news on Galapagos and our work to protect the Islands.

Share This Page