Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 4: Gallotia galloti

The Western Canaries Lizards (Gallotia galloti galloti) on mountain Guaza are extremely shy — particularly the adults. Although I was noticing them moving in the dry vegetation, I could rarely see the animals themselves. It appeared to me that the population density in this place was not that great than of G. g. eisentrauti that I observed in the north of the island. Young G. g. galloti have different pattern than young G. g. eisentrauti. To me it appeared similar to the pattern of young Gallotia intermedia that I had seen on photographs. Therefore I thought first that I was seeing G. intermedia. When I saw the adult gallotias which were definitely G. g. galloti, I recognised my mistake.


According to my observations, the lizards were feeding mainly on fruits of Opuntia in this extremely dry season. Here you see a juvenile G. g. galloti doing it.

There are three subspecies of Gallotia galloti on Tenerife. Two — G. g. galloti andG. g. eisentrauti — live on the main island where they are very common. The distribution area of the first covers the south and the far west of Tenerife, while the second lives in the north and the east. The mountains in the middle of the island appear to serve as a barrier between them. The western border is very easy to recognise because the transition from galloti to eisentrauti is very sharp: When you are coming by car from Buenavista del Norte towards Punto de Teno after you passed the tunnel you’ll find only lizards of the nominate subspecies. At Buenavista and all the way to the tunnel there are still lizards of the subspecies eisentrauti. The eastern border between subspecies should be caused by Anaga mountains. I personally didn’t observe the point where it happens.

A population of the third subspecies — G. g. insulanagae — exist only on a small rock near the coast of the Anaga Peninsula at the eastern end of Tenerife — Roque Fuera de Anaga. I have seen only one image of a male of this subspecies. Therefore I am eager to photograph these lizards myself. Unfortunately it is difficult to organise. The place is very easy to find. You have to come by car to the village Garachico and then to hike to the lighthouse. After you reached the lighthouse you’ll see a triangle rock standing in water less than a kilometer away from the coast. That’s the Roque Fuera de Anaga.

A real problem is to reach the rock. Although it is a protected area, no special permission is required to visit it as far as I know — but you need a boat. I hadn’t any and didn’t even try to organise one because local people in this area speak only Spanish, and with my poor command of this language I wasn’t able to find a fisherman and to negotiate with him. When I went to this place, I didn’t know that the rock is so close, I was only planning to photograph the landscapes of the Anaga Mountains. Now I know that Roque de Fuera is very close to the coast of Tenerife and can be reached by a normal fisherman boat — worth an attempt if would visit this place again.


Baiting with small banana pieces works well with all adult gallotias.

To me Gallotia galloti is the most beautiful species of this gender and eisentrautiis the most beautiful subspecies of it. Males are large and particularly colourful. Also females of G. g. eisentrauti have more clear body pattern and more bright colour than of G. g. galloti. Many males of the nominate subspecies have larger blue areas on their sides but the striped pattern isn’t so well recognisable. Adults of both subspecies feed on plants and like sweet fruits, such as banana, peach, strawberries, that can be used as bait, to attract them to a place where you can better photograph them. Of course, even then they remain shy and can be easily scared by sudden movement. However, even when they have run away they return very soon to the fruits.

With much more shy G. g. galloti a more crude method is effective — capturing. Gallotias are very quick and see very well. In the hot season, when I was there, adult G. g. galloti weren’t allowing to approach them closer than 6-8 meters. G. g. eisentrauti appeared to me generally less shy. In towns, for instance in Puerto de la Cruz, the lizards were allowing a distance of just 2 meters or even less because they were accustomed to the presence of people who often even fed them. Nonetheless, in most populations that I visited the only way to a macro or a close-up shot of a Gallotia galloti was to catch it. Since the lizards escape in thick thorny vegetation or in rocks before you approach them, you can’t do it with hands. I was using a fishing rod with a snare. It worked fine on adult animals.

When gallotias are active their bodies are very warm. Anyway they felt warmer than for instance of sand lizards I often had a chance to hold in hands. The body even of a large adult lizard feels soft — probably due to small scales that cover it. When caught, first it attempts to bite but very quickly stops any resistance and remains motionless as long as your hand is closed. As soon as you loosen the grip just a little the lizard will immediately attempt to escape, and usually will succeed. So you have to be very careful and quick when photographing. It is not like with many other lacertids that would usually stay in place for awhile after you have removed the hand: A gallotia will disappear even before you have noticed it. Therefore, when you are handling a gallotia be prepared for only one shot that you will need to release in a fraction of a second. If you have a quick reaction and if there are no escapes in immediate proximity, you may be able to catch the lizard again with a free hand and return it in position in front of the lens. Even then sooner or later it will run away.

When caught and put in position for a close-up photograph G. galloti look depressed for the first second when you are photographing them. However, it doesn’t make sense to wait longer: As soon as the animal takes a more natural pose, it escapes. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to obtain a decent wide-angle or macro image of G. galloti. I am not really satisfied with those that I managed to get during this trip and will repeat the attempts as soon as I have another opportunity.


Adult gallotias are strictly territorial — both, males and femals. Neigbours who attempt to trespass will be fought and chased by the owner of the territory. During such quarrels the animals usually are squeking loudly. Along with strictly vegetarian diet of adult animals, the ability to vocalisations is probably the most amazing in this lacertid gender.

The easiest approach, although not always resulting in artistic images, is shooting with a telephoto lens. At some locations I was using a 150mm macro lens — sometimes with a 2x teleconverter — with quite good results. It proved to be particularly useful for photographs of younger animals of both subspecies and of adult G. g. eisentrauti. For adult G. g. galloti I needed a 300 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lens. Quite often, I had to shoot through vegetation; then the large aperture of this lens was particularly helpful. However, carrying both lenses along with other equipment is difficult and doesn’t make much sense. A 2.8/150mm or 2.8/180 mm macro lens in combination with a teleconverter lens is more lightweight and more flexible alternative that I would recommend in this case.


View from Acantilados de Los Gigantes at Teno Cape — habitat of Gallotia galloti galloti. The neighbour island, La Gomera is visible at the horizon.

The best locations for photographing Western Canaries Lizards in natural habitat I have been to during this trip were Teno Cape (Punto de Teno) and Guaza Mountain (Montaña de Guaza) — for G. g. galloti, and Anaga Peninsula — for G. g. eisentrauti. Of course, the lizards are very numerous and easier to approach in towns and villages, and thus are easier to photograph, but the urban surroundings may be visible in your pictures, particularly if you’ll be using wide-angle lenses.

To be continued in Part 5: Gallotia caesaris gomerae.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 3: Gallotia intermedia

The Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia) is the fourth largest extant species in this genus. It was also discovered quite recently — in late 90-s. The terra typica is the rocks Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) at the south-western coast of Tenerife. With estimated number of 1500-2000, the total population of G. intermedia is much more numerous than of G. bravoana. This species is currently known from two localities — the coastal rocks between Punto de Teno and the town of Los Gigantes, and from the Montaña de Guaza (Guaza Mountain) at the eastern end of Los Cristianos. Since the distribution area of Tenerife Speckled Lizard is quite extended, this species doesn’t appear to be in acute danger although it may suffer from predation by stray cats.

The ecology of G. intermedia appears to be similar to that of G. bravoana: It inhabits dry rocky places with scarse vegetation, at the southern or south-western coast. Unlike G. bravoana that has been found so far only on a very steep slope of a rock, G. intermedia also occurs in a more plain areas — on the Guaza Mountain and at nearby locations.

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View at Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) — the terra typica of Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia).

I searched for my photography subjects in both populations but again had bad luck. In the western population I tried to find the lizards at two sites — near the town of Los Gigantes and at Punto de Teno. Both locations are in the same chain of Los Gigantes rocks, but at the both ends of it. There are no doubts that I was searching in the right places, but like with the Gomera Giant Lizards, I suppose that all living beings were hiding from the heat during this extremely hot summer. Anyway I didn’t see adult lizards of any species at all. A couple of young that I finally found and photographed in Baranco Seca — a gorge of a dried river — and that I initially thought were juvenile G. intermedia later turned out to be G. galloti.

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I found this memorial plate dedicated to the discovery of Gallotia intermedia on a rock at the beginning of the paths along the Los Gigantes cliffs.

The habitat of Tenerife Speckled Lizards at Los Gigantes is very easy to find: It is on the huge cliffs — Acantilados de Los Gigantes — that you see from any point in the town. All I needed to get there was to find a street leading to the cliffs. It was Calle Tabaiba that ends with a small parking lot. A path along the cliffs starts right at it. The entrance to the path was closed with a portable fence, a warning sign was informing that the path shouldn’t be used. I supposed that this warning was intended for the inhabitants of the villas nearby — people from Germany and other countries who own holiday apartments there and may want to go to the cliffs for a walk. Indeed, I saw people searching for a way to the cliffs, and also a woman who lived in a villa told that the official recreation path was higher — near the top of the rocks.

I took that lower that was closed. First it was quite broad, and walking was absolutely no problem. At about 200m from its beginning I saw a bronze plate on a rock telling that “Lagarto Canario Moteado” — i.e. Gallotia intermedia — had been first discovered in this place. This was a sign for me that I had determined the location correctly.

This slope was still in shadow, and I didn’t hurry. A couple of times I sat down not only to rest but also to wait for the sun. Finally the sun appeared, and its light was quickly getting brighter and hotter. Against my expectation no lizards were appearing: the slope was looking lifeless. Very soon it got very hot. I continued walking and looking for any lizards. Sometimes I left the path and searched in a wider area on both sides: No lizards were around.

Till noon, when the sunshine got really strong and the entire slope was standing in it, I went only a few kilometers in one direction, and there was no sense to go further. The slopes were extremely dry. There was no water and almost no green plants. When I reach a dried river bed I saw a few young gallotias. Since there were no adult individuals of G. galloti around, I thought that they were juvenile G. intermedia, particularly because they were looking not like the juveniles of G.g. eisentrauti that I had seen on the northern coast. I photographed one of those young lizards and went back to the parking lot. On the way the accident happened that I described in the grey box above.

The second known population of the Tenerife Speckled Lizard is in the area around Guaza Mountain (Montaña de Guaza). It is in immediate proximity of Los Cristianos — one of the most popular beach holiday destinations in Tenerife. Los Cristianos itself is probably the least attractive town on the island. It consists almost entirely of giant hotels and international tourist ressorts, and is a typical sun-and-fun holiday place. Therefore, I didn’t want to stay long there and reserved only a couple of days at the end of the trip for a search for G. intermedia.

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A many kilometers long path going along Acantilados de Los Gigantes — to and through the habitat of G. intermedia. Such paths are the only ways there from Los Gigantes town.

The Guaza Mountain itself and the land around it is officially protected as a nature reserve – Paraje Natural Montaña de Guaza. Nevertheless, the access to it is neither restricted nor regulated. Everyone can just drive closer to it, leave the car somewhere and walk to the mountain.

It is less than 400 m high, looks more like a hill, and is very easy to climb. The slopes aren’t steep. It surprised me that the habitat on Guaza Mountain was very different from what I had seen at Los Gigantes. However, just like there, the Tenerife Speckled Lizard was also here sympatric with the Western Canaries Lizard (Gallotia g. galloti). The latter were very common but hard even to see because they were very shy. Of G. intermedia I have seen no signs at all.

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A view at Montaña de Guaza (Guaza Mountain) from the balcony of my apartment in Los Cristianos. The second known population of Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia) that lives on this mountain was the reason for me to chose this hotel.

The weather was again very hot, and there were almost no green plants around except prickly pears (Opuntia). I am sure that heat was the reason why almost no living beings were active.

There is a hill adjacent to Guaza Mountain whose western slope ends in the ocean. According to the information that I had gathered, the Tenerife Speckled Lizards are found closer to the coast, i.e. on this hill which can be regarded as belonging to Guaza Mountain in a broad sense. The next day I searched on this hill too but found it empty: There weren’t even G. galloti around.

Since Monataña de Guaza is so close to the south airport of Tenerife “Aeropuerto Reina Sofia” where many flights from Europe land and since the harbor of Los Cristianos is connected by ferries with other islands, I am certainly planning to repeat the search in this place during my future travels to Canary Islands.

To be continued in Part 4: Gallotia galloti.