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.