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Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to the Balearic Islands
16th of July - 31st of July 2005

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck except the last one by Stefanie Delarue.

Three endemic species were the main targets of this summer trip. Besides those, we also wanted to find two other species which in Europe only occur on these islands through human introductions from northern Africa. We stayed on Mallorca and payed a one day visit to Menorca. Without doubt the “most wanted” among the searched species was ‘el Ferreret’ or Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis) due to its rareness, secretive lifestyle and attractive appearance. Summer is certainly not the best time for herp hunting on Mediterranean islands but we had chosen for Bulgaria last May … So we hoped it would not be too hot and too dry to grant us some observations. The heat was, however, somewhat a limiting factor to our searches but luckily some of the species were easy (!) to find and photograph. We took off with a small team of five: Jan, Peter and Anniek, my girlfriend Stefanie and myself. The second week was a ‘no herping’ week, during which Stefanie and I stayed a little longer than the others.
Apart from my -ever agreeable- travel companions, I want to thank a number of people for their hints concerning this trip: Daniel Escoriza, Pierre-André Crochet, Joan Mayol, Joan Oliver, Werner Mayer and Henk Strijbosch. Meeting Pierre and the local conservationists was great and we are grateful to them for helping us finding ‘ferrerets’.


overview of prospected sites

16th of July - arrival and from Palma to Lluc

Shortly after our arrival in Palma de Mallorca, we drove to the cathedral and admired a flourishing (introduced) population of Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis). We had a first (expensive) drink on Majorcan soil and then we moved to the surroundings of Calvia, where we found our first individuals of the very common Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) but also the only Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) we saw on this trip. A further stop near a water tank delivered the first Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi) and a juvenile Viperine Snake (Natrix maura). We drove through the Serra de Tramuntana from west to east and near Sóller we stopped at a ‘torrent’ with a small artificial pond in it, breeding site of a natural population of Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis). The turbid waters of the pond were inhabited by a huge number of pale and spotted tadpoles of the species. After that, we moved on for our first night at our stay in the Lluc monastery.


Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis)

Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis)

Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis)

breeding pond of Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

tadpoles of Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

17th of July - Sa Dragonera, s'Albufera (part 1) and at Lluc

We took the boat from Sant Elm to the islet Sa Dragonera and very soon we saw hundreds of Lilford’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi). The animals were extremely tame and a real joy to photograph. Just by tapping a dry-stone wall with my finger, tens of curious lizards came out of the shrubs to investigate whether this moving object might be tasty.


Sa Dragonera islet

some info ...

... and the actual dragon - Lilford's Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi)

s'Albufera marshes

18th of July - coastal dunes, some repeats and Cuber lake

On this day we were blessed with some clouds and we explored a dune area in the northeast of the island. Following the trails they had left behind in the sand, we could find some Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni). After that we drove to s’Albufera for a second visit and this time we saw Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) but unfortunately no European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) – Joan Oliver later informed us that the invader is drastically taking over from the (more) natural terrapin species. At the dam of the Cuber artificial lake, we found Iberian Water Frog and Viperine Snake.


Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)

Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

19th of July – Cala Ratjada, Moltona, Cala Mondragon and nocturnal ferreret observations

We drove to Cala Ratjada, hoping to catch a quick ferry to Minorca but that didn’t run on Tuesdays. After admiring Cala Ratjada's (again introduced) population of Ibiza Wall Lizard, we decided to drive to Colonia de Sant Jordi. We were able to hire a zodiac boat that dropped us off for a couple of hours on the tiny islet Moltona. This islet was inhabited by another form of Lilford’s Rock Lizard. While at first the lizards here seemed less tame than their relatives from Dragonera, we soon learned differently. As Anniek sat down on the beach to read, tens of little black monsters came out of the shrubs to bite her toes, run over the pages of her book etc. We drove on for a short search at Cala Mondrago, which seemed an ideal snake habitat to us. Apart from Moorish Gecko, Peter found a skin of False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus s.s.), our first sign of the species.
After having benefited for quite some time from his vast knowledge on European herpetology by e-mail only, we finally got a chance to meet with Pierre-André Crochet, as it was he who told us about that Alytes spot near Sóller in the first place. After finding the pond, seeing larvae and hearing adults before, he came back to Majorca to see adults this time. We decided to meet after dark at the pond to try to find an adult. By the time we arrived at the pond, Pierre had already caught an adult and Peter waded through the pond to catch another one. A third animal was heard calling from within a rock crevice. We were very happy with this observation and of course pictures were made. Remarkable was that both animals we saw had a rather uniform dorsal pattern without the typical greenish blotches.


Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis)

Lilford's Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi)

Lilford's Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi)

Lilford's Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi)

Moltona's lizard habitat

strange sea monster - a 20-30cm large sea hare

Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus)

20th of July – resting ...

The other night, because we were unable to return before the monestary's closing time, we were forced to pass the night outside. The 20th was consequently spent resting and visiting the Cuber lake area again.


Cuber artificial lake

Iberian Water Frog (Rana perezi)

21th of July – reintroduction site of ferrerets and surroundings of Calvia

We met with Joan Oliver at Calvia and drove to one of the introduction sites on the vast estate of a wealthy Swiss guy. The site is a real paradise for the ferrerets. Over 300 larvae were counted, swimming in the concrete water tank. Out of the holes and cracks in the bricks that were put there on purpose, 26 adults turned up, including a couple of males carrying eggs in different stages of development. The animals here displayed the more typical dorsal pattern of greenish blotches and the larvae were quite different from those at the first site as well; jet black – we learned that they appear in this phenotype when predation is absent. After this nice visit, we searched around Calvia for Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), finding just a road-killed individual.


local conservationists during field work - larval count and individual recognition of adults

Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

same

same

same

tadpole of Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)

22th of July – second failed attempt for Minorca and a dead False Smooth Snake

Again, we drove to Cala Ratjada but this time the Cape Balear boat was broken! We realised that it had been a mistake in the first place, trying to catch this quicker boat, so we arranged for the more conventional and reliable one from Port d’Alcudia to Cuitadella (Minorca) for the next day. Back on the way from Cala Ratjada to Alcudia, Jan spotted a DOR individual of False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus s.s.). In contrast to its more clearly marked relative of the Iberian mainland (Macroprotodon brevis), this species exhibits a rather dull and weak dorsal pattern, indeed reminding of a less attractive Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca). The animal we found did, however, have a bright yellow upper lip marked with a dark bar beneath the eye.

23th of July – Minorca at last

Finally, we managed to take a ferry to Minorca. The boat trip took about 2h30 and as soon as we set foot on Minorcan soil we started lizard hunting. We soon found Moorish Gecko and a few Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis siculus), although it was too hot for them to run around a lot. After a 3km walk to the east, we saw two rather inconspicuous individuals of Moroccan Rock Lizard (Teira perspicillata), hiding from the heat in a dry-stone wall. Both animals kept their eyes shut for most of the time, so we could easily observe the characteristic window in their eyelids without catching.


Moroccan Rock Lizard (Teira perspicillata)

habitat of Moroccan Rock Lizard

Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus)

The remainder of the days ...

Jan, Peter and Anniek went home on the 24th, while Stefanie and I stayed until the 31th. The most common species were observed again at some revisited and some new sites. At one site near the sea we found an extra species, in the form of some larvae of Green Toad (Bufo viridis).


the most common Balearic reptile - Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

landscape near the Witches' Caves

predator and prey side by side - Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi) and Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)

from the same spot - seemingly good for ferrerets but inhabited by the invaders

Crocothemis erythraea

end of Torrent de Pareis at Sa Calobra

List of the observed species

1. Majorcan Midwife Toad (Alytes muletensis)
2. Green Toad (Bufo viridis)
3. Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)
4. Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni)
5. Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca graeca) - only DOR
6. Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
7. Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
8. Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
9. Lilford's Wall Lizard (Podarcis lilfordi) - sspp. gigliolii and jordansi
10. Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis)
11. Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus)
12. Moroccan Rock Lizard (Teira perspicillata)
13. Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
14. False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus s.s.) - only DOR

What we missed …

* Two species were only observed dead on the road. Although we searched several times after dusk and turned over a reasonable number of stones, we only found a shed skin and one dead-on-road animal of Macroprotodon cucullatus. The area near Calvia seemed to offer little remaining food for Testudo graeca, which is not common at all.
* Bufo viridis was only observed in the form of some tadpoles. This species is said to be common and abundant during winter when it breeds. Some rain might have made it leave its aestivation sites at night but the few drops we received were insufficient.
* The known hotspot for Emys orbicularis (s’Albufera) on Mallorca is nowadays infested with Trachemys scripta elegans. On Minorca, some healthy populations are said to remain but we didn’t go there, as our limited time on Minorca was dedicated to searching for Teira perspicillata.
* As with Emys, two other species restricted to Minorca (on the Balearics), were not observed: Hyla meridionalis and Rhinechis scalaris.


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