Herpetofauna of Europe : eurotour i (july 2007)
Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to France, Italy and Spain
20th-30th of July 2007

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.

After a horticultural weekend along the Loire river in France, my companions Stefanie, Tim and Evelyne went back to Belgium, while regular herp trip companion Jan picked me up and we drove further south to photograph some particular species. Due to the fact that it was mid-summer and Jan and I were just the two of us, taking it a little slow, we found not that many species. We drove a lot from one point to the next. Main attractions were Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus), two Speleomantes species, Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi) and the Columbretes Wall Lizard (“Podarcis atrata”). Twenty-three species of amphibians (13) and reptiles (10) were observed. Dragonflies were a second pass-time, with a rather nice list of thirty species. Thanks to Emanuele Biggi, Francesco Tomasinelli, Dario Ottonello, Salvador Carranza, Daniel Escoriza, Pierre-André Crochet, Philippe Geniez and Pierre Grillet.

overview of prospected sites

20th-21st of July - along the Loire river

On Friday 20th, Stefanie and I took off with our friends Tim and Evelyne, to a garden festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire. No real herp hunting on these two days, though at the Etang du Sudais and along the Loire, some species were present: Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), Edible (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) and Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus), Grass Frog (Rana temporaria), Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), and Viviparous (Zootoca vivipara) or Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis). At our stay at Montrichard, Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) was heard calling. Jan arrived Saturday evening and the next morning we drove to Italy.

étang du Sudais

Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)

22nd of July – long drive and Bombina

We drove from the Loire to Italian Liguria and in the late afternoon we visited the site where I had seen Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus) the year before. Now, also Jan took pictures of the species. At the site, also more or less the same species as last year: Italian Stream Frog (Rana italica), Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata). Afterwards, we found ourselves a nice B&B.

Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus)

Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus)

Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus)

Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus) - tadpoles and eggs

Jan taking pictures

23th of July – Speleomantes ambrosii

This day was spent in the wider Ligurian-Tuscan border area. First, we did some crazy climbing and crawling through wooded hills and small brook valleys covered in bramble bushes, trying to find Speleomantes ambrosii bianchii. No luck here - we only ended up very sweaty and exhausted. Only Common Wall Lizard and larvae of Fire Salamander here. On our way through the Cinqueterre area, we found a DOR Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus). After that, we visited a cave that I had already been to in 2003. Inside, we found quite some Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii ambrosii). Also several Italian Stream Frogs were enjoying the cool cave climate. Outside the cave, next to a river, again many Common Wall Lizards plus some juveniles of Common Toad (Bufo bufo). In the evening, we met with Ema and Franci and saw a first Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) at the restaurant.

Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii)

Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii)

Italian Stream Frog (Rana italica)

Italian Stream Frog (Rana italica)

stream outside the cave

newly metamorphosed juvenile of Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

24th of July – Genova and Pietra Ligure

While we intended at first to skip Salamandrina, some nocturnal rain made us change our mind, and Francesco guided us to the urban site in Genova, also a re-visit for me since 2003. Despite the very high humidity, underneath the stones and wood everything was still extremely dry, so unfortunately we found no Salamandrina, despite Common Wall Lizards and some baby Bufo once more. Next, we met with Dario at Pietra Ligure, and he showed us a tunnel with many Strinati’s Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes strinatii) inside. After that, we drove into France again, and stayed at a camp site not too far from the Pont du Gard.

Strinati’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes strinatii)

Strinati’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes strinatii)

25th of July – French dragonflies

We got up early to look at the dragonflies near the Pont du Gard. A bit dissappointing, also on herps (Marsh Frog, Common Wall Lizard and Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)). Some further dragonfly-related stops in the area were more rewarding. At the Etang des Aulnes, Marsh Frog again.

Onychogomphus forcipatus

26th of July – Aiguamolls and Montseny

We left France for the Spanish episode of our trip. First, a visit to Aiguamolls del Emporda. Here, we saw Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi), Catalonian Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis), Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) and Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis), but not a single terrapin nor painted frog.
In the late afternoon, we arrived at the Montseny mountains north of Barcelona. A short stop along the way, with larvae of Fire Salamander, another DOR Aesculapian Snake and Moorish Gecko. After setting up our tents and dinner at Montseny village and a Moorish Gecko there, we went out in the dark and explored two brooks. At both, we found the very rare Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi): five males at the first site and a single, nicely spotted juvenile at the second. Also many larvae of Fire Salamander, some of Common Midwife Toad (ssp. almogavarii), a big Common Toad, and a nice, big Fire Salamander adult. The brook newt was a very nice creature. Its smooth skin was one of the features clearly differentiating it from its Pyrenean counterpart (Calotriton asper), as wel as a pungent smell if handled. At about 2 o’clock AM, we went to sleep.

Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)

swimming Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)

young Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)

Little Egret


Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi)

Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi)

juvenile of Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi)

Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

27th of July – Ebro

Again driving… This time south towards Peñiscola, where we would be taking the boat on the next day. On our way there, we stopped near the river Ebro, trying to find some dragonflies. On herps, we found Iberian Water Frog, Catalonian Wall Lizard and Jan crossed the path of a Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus). We soon gave up because of the heat, and found ourselves another camp site close to Peñiscola.

28th of July – Columbretes

Together with Daniel Escoriza and a couple of other local herp enthousiasts, we took part in a boat trip to the Columbretes Islands, organised by Audouin Birding Tours. The two times three hour boat trip offered nice birding (Cory’s Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Eleonora’s Falcon, Audouin’s Gull, …), as well as some swordfish and flying fish jumping up. For us, the main attraction was, however, living on the islands themselves. We got off and explored Gran Columbrete, the main island. Although it was extremely hot, we managed to observe many specimens of the Columbretes Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis atratus), especially in a small greenhouse, close to the vegetable garden near the lighthouse, as there temperatures were a little lower. After taking pictures, we had a much appreciated swim to cool down. On the way back, the shearwaters got really close, as sardines were thrown out to attract them. Once we got back on the mainland, we drove from one beach resort to the next and quickly went to sleep at our crowded and noisy camp site.

approaching the Columbretes Isles

group of Shags

the heat allowed us mainly to see lizards in there…

Columbretes Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis atratus)

Columbretes Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis atratus)

Columbretes Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis atratus)

Columbretes Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis atratus)

Columbretes Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis atratus)

bay of Gran Columbrete with our boat at the left

Jan and Spanish herpetologists

Cory’s Shearwater

Audouin’s Gull

29th of July – from Spain to France

A whole day in the car, from northeastern Spain up north to the area of Thouars and Saumur in France. A drunk bartender gave us a bad impression of our hotel, but their French cuisine was excellent.

30th of July – Clawed Toad

We met with Pierre Grillet in the morning, and drove to the pond next to a farm. The lady of the house had thrown in a trap with some dog food. Apparently highly eutrophic due to goose droppings, the pond -especially in and close to the trap- proved to be infested with African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis). Soon, I had collected about fifteen specimens. Also Marsh Frog and Common Wall Lizard were seen here. After thanking the local people for their kind help, we drove back home to Belgium.

farm with pond at the right

African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis)

African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis)

African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis) - hindfoot with claws

List of the observed species

1. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
2. Montseny Brook Newt (Calotriton arnoldi)
3. Ambrosi’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii)
4. Strinati’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes strinatii)
5. African Clawed Toad (Xenopus laevis)
6. Italian Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina pachypus)
7. Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans)
8. Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
9. Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)
10. Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
11. Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus)
12. Grass Frog (Rana temporaria)
13. Italian Stream Frog (Rana italica)
14. Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
15. Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis) or Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)
16. Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata)
17. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
18. Catalonian Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis - nominal and ssp. atratus)
19. Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
20. Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)
21. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
22. Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
23. Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

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