Herpetofauna of Europe : symi - greece (october 2007)
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Herpetological trip to Symi (Greece)
4th-15th of October 2007

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck, except one (automated 7 people pic) by Jan Van Der Voort.

Our first adventure outside Europe but still inside a European country, was to the small Dodecanese island Symi, close to the Turkish Aegean coast and just north of Rhodes island. Whereas our 2006 autumn trip to the Peloponnese was a big, unanticipated success, this trip delivered a more typical end-of-season result. Thirteen species of amphibians (1) and reptiles (12) were observed, while fifteen are known to inhabit the island and one exogenous species was encountered too. To our surprise, we found quite some Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer), yet no Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina). Thanks to Matt Wilson for inspiring us to take this trip and helping with locality details. Thanks for in situ help by Nick and Ilias.
Search site locations will not be specified to discourage malicious collectors.

5th of October - arrival and ten species

As soon as we left the airport, we quickly got on the boat from Rhodes to Symi. On the way, we enjoyed some dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) passing by. After our arrival in Symi’s lovely port, friendly people helped us to our stay. In the late afternoon, we headed off for our first search. As expected, the first species were the omnipresent Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans), Oertzen’s Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta oertzeni) and Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio). Even in this dry after-summer period, these species were very commonly observed each day of our stay on Symi. A few Spur-thighed Tortoises (Testudo graeca) were on the move, and in the leaf litter some Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus kitaibelii) were crawling. After a while, Peter and Jan caught our first snakes - a subadult Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis) and a juvenile Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer). The latter was high on our wishlists, so we were surprised to find it so soon already. After dinner, Peter and I went out for a nocturnal walk, and I caught an adult Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) - to our knowledge only the second confirmed record of this species for Symi. Many Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and quite some Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi) -mainly juveniles- were also active. This concluded a very successful first half day.


Oertzen’s Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta oertzeni)

Oertzen’s Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta oertzeni)

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)

subadult Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

typical belly pattern of subadult Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

juvenile Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)

6th of October

The day began with photography of the animals of yesterday at the same site, after which we found a dead Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi) and a dead Green Toad (Bufo viridis). Jan, Anniek and I made a crazy climb across steep slopes, looking for a spot for Levant Skink (Trachylepis aurata), without luck. The food and drinks afterwards came just in time.

7th of October

Local man Nicholas gave us some hints for further herping and we found a DOR juvenile Coin-marked Snake close to his place. A living juvenile was found near a cemetery uphill above the port, as were the more common species (Spur-thighed Tortoise, Oertzen’s Rock Lizard, Starred Agama, Snake-eyed Lacertid and Skink, Turkish Gecko and here more Kotschy’s Gecko).


juvenile Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

8th of October

Yet another hot and viper-free day in our favourite search area. Jan arrived at the bar of our mid-day breaks with a strange snake. It turned out to be a heavily spotted Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus), looking quite different than what we had expected. We all went back to the place where Jan found it, for pictures. Gijs found the trip’s only living Anatolian Worm Lizard closeby. Also at the same spot, Peter found a baby Black Whip Snake. Near Nicholas’ farm, I spotted an adult Coin-marked Snake getting away inside a drystone wall, and another DOR juvenile was found as well.


Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus)

Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus)

Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi)

juvenile Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

habitat of the above depicted

Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)

9th of October

When on our way to the port for a bite to eat during the hottest hours of the day, I caught a subadult Coin-marked Snake next to the main road. Our PM search did not result in any more snakes.


Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)

Oertzen’s Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta oertzeni)

view over Yialos and Symi port

subadult Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

10th of October

The first of two days with a rental car. First a small valley below a landfill. It got soon very hot, and also at another stop near a farm with vines only lizards. In the evening, we searched the Aghios Vassilios gorge and found two young Black Whip Snakes. After dark, we found a big Green Toad, unfortunately damaged by a passing car.


Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)

11th of October

In a waterpoint along the mainroad south, Gijs spotted an exogenous terrapin, most likely to be Red-eared Terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans). On our way to Panormitis, we found yet another DOR juvenile of Coin-marked Snake. At Panormitis, the usual lizards plus tortoise and a subadult Black Whip. A sunset stop with nearly nothing was followed by a nocturnal drive with another -more healthy- Green Toad as a result.


Panormitis’ jugularis habitat

belly of subadult Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

hill-topping - Anniek, Gijs, Jan and Peter above Symi town

Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

12th of October

By foot again, and with the help of Ilias Strachinis from Thessaloniki, we explored our favorite valley again. A second, less spotted Dwarf Snake was discovered by Gijs. Peter found a skin of an Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina), but no sign of a live one.


Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus)

13th of October

Our final full day of searching, with some nice observations, thanks to some clouds finally showing up. Ilias collected a juvenile Coin-marked Snake from outside his tent, while Peter caught a 140cm specimen. Jan saw another adult escaping in a drystone wall, and Gijs saw another subadult Black Whip. At the end of the day, I caught a 120cm black adult of Black Whip Snake.


adult Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

adult Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

silly trophy shot with nummifer - Gijs, Peter, Anniek, me, Jan, Vassiliki and Ilias

Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

head and remarkable belly of Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

Peter practicing for future encounters with less harmless snakes

13th of October

Before heading back to Rhodes and home, we made our final search efforts. Despite rain during the night, no further living snakes. Yet another dead juvenile Coin-marked Snake just next to our hotel, and another viper skin in the valley. Much more (large) lizards and tortoises out and about, after the welcomed refreshment. Too bad we had to go...


Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

slough of Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina)

Epilogue

We were reasonably satisfied with our result, even though many specimens were small animals, the number of snakes was typically lower than on spring trips, and we missed two species. Surprised to find so many Coin-marked Snakes and not a single viper. In 2004, Montivipera xanthina was not that hard to find in northern Greece, so we had expected to find at least one.
As expected, Levant Skink was hard to find. Our failure to find it, seems to confirm the fact that the species can be more easily encountered on Rhodes and on the Turkish mainland (e.g. Ephesus ruins, where I found the species in 2003, even in June's mid-day heat).
We were also quite happy with the somewhat harder to find ones (Cat Snake, Anatolian Worm Lizard and the two Dwarf Snakes), while all other species were fairly easy to find. Besides the three very common lizards, both gecko species were also common, albeit the dominant species differed from one place to another. With the exception of a few locations, the absence of geckoes in the inhabited areas was surprising.

List of the observed species

1. Green Toad (Bufo viridis)
2. Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)
3. Red-eared Terrapin (Trachemys scripta elegans) or other alien terrapin species
4. Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)
5. Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)
6. Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)
7. Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
8. Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
9. Oertzen’s Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta oertzeni)
10. Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi)
11. Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)
12. (Masked) Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus)
13. Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)
14. Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)

What we missed …

1. Levant or Golden Skink (Trachylepis aurata)
2. Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina)

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