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

Darwin's finches are released from aviaries on Floreana island
19th Apr 2024
Events Rewilding

Rewilding Floreana Webinar 2024

Our April webinar focused on the restoration of Floreana, with Jeff Dawson of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust reporting back from his recent trip to the island.
Read more
Galapagos giant tortoise in pond
18th Apr 2024
Island restoration Rewilding

Double your donation to rewild Galapagos with the Big Give

We're taking part in the Big Give Green Match Fund campaign, raising money to rewild the Galapagos Islands. For one week only, every donation you make will be doubled, up to an amazing £10,000!
Read more
Small ground finch released on Floreana island, February 2024
7th Mar 2024
Island restoration Rewilding

Promising signs on Floreana as five species of finch are released

Five species of Darwin’s finch, which were held safely in captivity during the eradication of invasive species from Floreana, have now been released.
Read more
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

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