Darwin and Wolf, The home of the Vampire Finches

This interesting work is focused on a finch that is found only on the Darwin and Wolf islands, which are located in the extreme north of the Galapagos archipelago. Both islands are very difficult to access even for researchers due to their incredibly rocky coastline, which makes landing difficult. However, these characteristics have made Darwin and Wolf an interesting territory for science, because the species that live here have adapted to survive.

Darwin’s finches, as we know, have been adapting the shape and size of their bills, allowing them to exploit different diets. For example, long and thin beaks allow to reach nectar from some flowers, while other beaks are better for crushing seeds or consuming insects.

The question is, why did a finch evolve to feed on blood? For Chaves, this action is a clear example of “mutualism,” a mechanism by which two or more species benefit.

“It is suggested that the action of feeding on blood derives from a behavior that is evident in other finches and on other islands, which is to feed on external parasites on the skin of turtles, iguanas, and on the feathers of birds such as boobies. In the case of boobies, they have parasites that live in their feathers and feed on their blood and skin. These parasites are removed by finches, which is why this mutualism event (finch feeding on parasites – booby benefiting from this cleaning) is common on the islands.

On some occasions, these parasites (a type of fly) leave scars on the skin which are then used by finches to feed on blood,” explained Chaves.

In addition, it is believed that the lack of food sources in Darwin and Wolf, alongside the fact it is home to one of the largest colonies of Nazca boobies, may explain why vampire finches consume blood as part of their diet. Finches have even learned to pierce the skin at the base of young feathers to access the blood directly, without the need for parasitic insects.

Blood represents only 10% of a vampire finch’s food source. While there are no records of booby deaths due to this cause, it is obvious that it bothers them, with booby chicks typically the most affected. According to Chaves, “the finches also attack the young boobies, and they cannot fly and escape these hematophagy events. I have seen chicks walking between the rocks trying to escape the finches, and sometimes they can fall and die or get lost in the bushes and not return to the nest where they are fed by the adults.”


What is clear is that the species of vampire finch found on Wolf and Darwin only inhabits these islands, and have sufficiently different genetics than other sister species found in other islands. These species also present different characteristics of their beak, clearly making them a unique species of Wolf and Darwin – and one worthy of continued study.

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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!