Travelogue with terrestrial invertebrates

Lindsey Anderson

July 6, 2004

My first encounter with the terrestrial invertebrates of the Galápagos did not actually occur on the islands, but instead on the AeroGal plane on the trip from San Cristóbal to the island of Baltra. You might think that I'm talking about cockroaches in the Ecuadorian plane food that made Jeremy sick, but the bug I saw was certainly less exciting than cockroaches. I merely saw a small black fly, whizzing around the plane, bothering Dr. Merck. Sarcastic Dr. Merck even commented that the fly would "brag to the other flies on Baltra that it 'flew' all the way across the ocean, neglecting the part about the plane." When we landed on Baltra I was far too doped up on allergy and anti-seasickness medication to notice any type of terrestrial invertebrate, and spent most of my time in the airport sneezing and looking for my emergency stash of tissues.

We met our guide, Luis Rodriguez, during one of my sneezing fits and we all stumbled onto a crowded bus full of rowdy Texan SCUBA divers. After a short ride, we boarded the dinghy and set off for the San José, our home on the water. Luis gave us a few minutes to settle in while we traveled to the island of Santa Cruz. We anxiously boarded the dinghies for our first Galápagos walk on Las Bachas. I didn't see any bugs on Las Bachas beach but that could have been because I was so preoccupied with the flamingo, great blue heron, turtle nests, yellow warbler, giant tortoise, marine iguanas, sally light foot crabs, and just the Galápagos in general! We got back to the boat and I thought I was dreaming. We had a fabulous dinner and met the crew of the San José.

After dinner I had my second encounter with terrestrial invertebrates, and again I wasn't even on the islands! We were motoring to Bartolome when I saw a painted locust, just hanging out on the sundeck of the boat. I ran for my camera and shot about five pictures of the "most beautiful bug in the Galápagos," according to Dr. Merck. I then started shooting pictures of the ants-with-wings that were resting on the stern of the boat. After that night, anytime someone saw a bug I heard "Lindsey, get over here QUICK!" from on of the students and then "Did Lindsey get a picture of it?" from Dr. Merck.

We woke up to Luis' "bang bang morning" and some brown volcanoes. We walked to the top of one of them later that day where I saw a lava spider. The spider would have gone totally unnoticed if I hadn't heard "Lindsey get over here QUICK!" It was light brown and about the size of a nickel. I got a nice picture of it with one of the boy's fingers for scale. Later that day, we went snorkeling at Pinacle Rock and then went to Sullivan Bay on Santiago for a walk on an endless lava field. On the lava walk, I saw several painted locusts and a few small black flies. The locusts tend to perch on the folds of the pahoehoe lava. The lava walk primed us for the other hard hikes we would do in the days to come.

On the third day, we took a dinghy ride in Elizabeth Bay on the largest island, Isabela. There, I saw water striders, mosquitoes, a monarch butterfly, a dragonfly, and several sulfur butterflies. The funny thing about the ride was that unlike at home, the bugs don't bother people. They could care less if you swat at them, they will just continue to hang out where ever they would like. After the ride we had lunch on the San José and snorkeled at the Mariela Islands and at Urbina Bay. The water was surprisingly cold and we were happy to walk in the sunshine at the black sand beach on Urbina Bay. There I saw more sulfur butterflies, a dragonfly, and several carpenter bees. I was also able to get a picture of an ant that was crawling on Terrence's blue towel. That night I saw a wasp and a moth on the sundeck which I attempted to photograph.

At halfway through the trip, day four lent a real treat that earned Luis 16 beers. We went for a walk on a beach called Punta Espinoza on the western most island of Fernandina. We landed on very slippery rocks because a few sea lions blocked the usual landing spot. It was a cloudy day and we saw little in the way of terrestrial invertebrates. A few carpenter bees buzzed on the beach past the sea lions and marine iguanas. We were strolling along, listening to Luis enlighten us on the life of the islands when he noticed that the sea lion in front of us looked sick. We watched her for a while and then continued our walk. I shot about half a roll of film on the marine iguanas there as they seemed to pose for the camera. We eventually walked back to the place where we saw the sick sea lion and Luis walked towards the water to get a closer look. He soon told us, "She is going to give birth!" We piled onto the rocks that lined the beach and waited patiently for the large mother to push out a huge pup. It was an awesome site. Luis told us that in twelve years he had only seen a birth four times. We reluctantly walked away from the new mother and went back to the San José for lunch. On the walk back I saw a dragonfly and a sulfur butterfly, which are too fast to photograph. After lunch we snorkeled at Punta Vicente Roca and motored all night to Santiago Island. We were told to conserve fresh water because we were running low, but we were told a little too late.

We woke up to Luis' "bang bang morning" anchored in James Bay on Santiago. We showered in the ocean during our snorkel there and then hiked on Puerto Egas. Puerto Egas was a prime spot for terrestrial invertebrates and I was actually able to photograph a dragonfly! The walk was less challenging than previous days and I hung out by the vegetation looking for bugs. I photographed a long cylindrical one on Jeremy's shirt and tried to get a picture of a spider on its web. Shortly after that, I flipped over a rock to show it to Dr. Merck when I saw a huge spider hiding underneath, which I got a great picture of! At lunchtime we motored to Rábida Island where we snorkeled and walked on a red sand beach. We saw a panamic cushion star dying on the beach as the sun was setting. We wanted to throw it back in the water but Luis told us that it was against park rules. That night, we ran out of water while I was in the shower and I decided to change my tactics for my fight against sea sickness. The patch seemed to be interfering with my vision and was making me dizzy so I took it off and popped two Dramamines everyday for the rest of the trip. They made me sleep through the rocking of the boat, especially on all-night rough trips like the one to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.

We were anchored among many boats in Academy Bay on the morning of day six. I stumbled out of my cabin to notice that we had fresh water again! After breakfast we boarded the dinghies and landed on a real dock near the Charles Darwin Research Station. On the walk there I saw carpenter bees and small black butterflies. We toured the station and saw the baby turtles. We walked farther to see Lonesome George and the other mature turtles and Luis showed us how to feed them. Soon after, we were set loose in the town of Puerto Ayora where we were able to buy various souvenirs and where I bought an "I love boobies" t-shirt. At noon, we boarded the boat for lunch and we all fell asleep on the sundeck. After our nap we went for a hike in the uplands where we saw 13 wild tortoises! There was a small pond there which was a great place for bugs. I saw many sulfur butterflies, wasps, carpenter bees, flies, and ants. We went up farther where we walked into garua that wet our cameras and ourselves. The sticky sixteen of us packed in the van to go back to the dinghies to go back to the San José to shower and primp for our night on the town. After dinner we went back into Puerto Ayora. Some of us went to the internet café and others went to a bar called Limon y Café. We ended up meeting at Limon y Café where Dr. Merck pulled me onto the dance floor and taught me to salsa. I then pulled Dr. Holtz onto the dance floor where he proved that he has no rhythm! We went back to the boat for a long and choppy trip to the southern most island of Espanola.

We woke up in southwest Española at a place called Punta Suarez. It was there that we saw blue footed boobies mating and albatrosses! Luis pointed out an albatross egg that was cracked and had three flies feasting on it. We saw carpenter bees and flies there too. I heard Annette say, "Lindsey get over here QUICK," and I ran to take a picture of a small colorful bug that had landed on her pants. We sat on a cliff for a while and watched the surf and the albatrosses and then we had lunch. After lunch we had a chilly snorkel in Gardner Bay and we walked on a beautiful white beach that was covered in sea lions. We piled on one another and pretended we were sea lions before burying Rhyan in the sand. There were countless flies on the beach as they hang out all over the stinky sea lions. That night during the motor to Seymour, I saw a moth and a painted locust on the sundeck. I fell asleep at about nine o'clock in the salon.

On the last day we woke up extra early to get in one more walk. We had a walk on North Seymour where we saw male frigate birds displaying and some blue footed boobies and their chicks. The walk seemed to go by way too quickly and bugs were no where to be found. We motored to Baltra during breakfast and boarded the dinghies for a final time. My last experience with terrestrial invertebrates happened while waiting for the bus to the airport. I was sitting on a bench when I heard "Oh my God!" We saw a small brown scorpion on the concrete. We were out of the National Park so Laura poked it and got it excited while I took a picture. It was the perfect thing to close the trip with.

This was the best trip I have ever been on. Although I was assigned to focus on the bugs, I learned an incredible amount about landforms, vegetation, and animals as well. Galápagos doesn't seem to have as many bugs as New Jersey does in the summer, or maybe Galápagos bugs just leave humans alone. Either way, I left the islands without any bites and even got some nice close-ups of bugs that would just fly away at home. Now, every time I see a fly, I have to fight the urge to reach for my camera.