The Galapagos Islands are renowned as a crucible for evolution. Famously, an ancestral tanager species, following its arrival from South America, radiated and adapted to the varying environmental conditions available on the different islands. Thirteen species of “Darwin’s Finches” (they’re not actually true finches) are now found through the archipelago.
On Santa Cruz, where most people start their Galapagos journey, these birds are small, common and friendly.
Santa Cruz is large, wet and forested. Wolf Island, in the far north of the archipelago, is a very different place.
Wolf lies 140 km north of the main islands, created by a different volcanic system. It’s small, less than 3 km2 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… *dramatic pause*… are vampires.
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Introducing the vampire finch
I know, I know, vampires are so 2008. These little bloodsuckers have been around somewhat longer. They’re a subspecies of the sharp-beaked ground finch, found on several islands through the archipelago. On Wolf, a lack of natural water sources means the island is extremely dry for most of the year.
The best, most reliable source of fluid? Blood.
Nazca boobies nest in abundance on the island, their permanently quizzical countenance greeting us in the hundreds upon arrival. The finches flit among them, occasionally landing on their folded wings, whereupon they use that sharp beak to find and pull out the developing feathers.
The blood flows freely from the wound, staining the boobies white plumage. Multiple finches were sometimes taking turns to lap it up.
It looks macabre, to put it lightly, but the boobies didn’t seem overly troubled. In fact, they barely seemed to notice the finches. This blood-drinking behavior is thought to have evolved from the finches pecking out parasites, so perhaps the boobies haven’t worked out that the finches have changed the arrangement. Poor boobies.
All in all, an interesting behavior to see in person. The harsh terrestrial environment of the Galapagos has led to some fascinating adaptations among the animals that call it home.
Thanks to Jonathan R Green from Galapagos Shark Diving for organizing this expedition, with support from a private trust, the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Galapagos Conservation Trust, and the Queen Mabel crew for all the help, and our friends for joining us!