Herpetofauna of Europe : sardinia - italy (february-march 2009)
Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to Sardinia
25th of February-4th of March 2009

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.

An early season trip took us to one of the most beautiful areas in Europe. Though floristic live was not yet fully awake, dramatic and diverse scenery made up for this. This early departure was mainly due to the higher activity of the island’s cave salamanders (Speleomantes spp.) in that time of the year. Consequently, we were unable to find the high number of species, that has become more or less usual for our trips ;-). While our results certainly do not call for disappointment, a period of frost and dry weather preceding our arrival, for sure made our searches harder than anticipated (cf. stories of friends etc.). About three or four days of our short stay were ‘lost’ in intensive searches with little or no result. In consequence, a somewhat longer stay would certainly have allowed more species to be observed. We were three Hyla people: Jan, Gijs and myself. We joined Benny Trapp, who had arrived already a few days earlier and had the fortune to be able to stay on for quite some time after we left. Leonard joined in for the second part of the trip. Both Jan and myself already had been to the island. Apart from some re-visits, many sites were visited that were new to either of us.
Eighteen species of amphibians (8) and reptiles (10) were observed of the 26 (or 28, if introduced water frogs and undocumented Aesculapian snake sightings are included) known to inhabit Sardinia.
We thank Salvador Carranza, Edo Van Uchelen, Ruud Wolterman, Peter Oefinger, Daniel Escoriza, Claudia Corti, Sergé Bogaerts, Benedikt Schmidt, Laurens Woldring, Stefano Bovero, Alexandre Roux, Arie van der Meijden, Giuseppe Sotgiu, Kurt Grossenbacher, Per Blomberg, Claudio Angelini, Paolo Mazzei, Martin Minarík, Joachim Maertens and Marco Pisano for details on search sites.
Due to the sensitive nature of some species and their popularity among malicious collectors, no specific site details will be revealed, and habitat pictures will be kept to a minimum.

overview of prospected sites

25th of February - arrival and hurry for genei

We arrived at Cagliari airport in the early afternoon. As we were going to stay for most of our trip at a lodge in the Sopramonte di Oliena area, we still had quite a drive ahead of us. First, however, we explored two sites in the southwest of the island. The first was a spot in the range of the restricted subspecies B of Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei). This taxon, which deserves species rank according to some authors, still awaits proper description incl. attribution of a taxon name. Traditionally, it is believed to be restricted to the very small Monte Tasua-Barbusi area, but further molecular investigation of the entire southern range half of genei is required. Anyway, we arrived at the foot of a nice hill, where we met with Benny. Having explored some mine galleries, he came back really tired. We helped and took over. After little over an hour, we had found two females underneath stones outside, so not in the galleries. We were rather pleased with this first success, as we had read this was a rare one. In the same area, we found also a range of other species: Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus tiligugu), Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides vittatus), Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus), Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta) and calling Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda). On an old building, Gijs found Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and a Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea), which, unfortunately, escaped.
As the sun was starting to set, we hurried to a site for the ‘regular’ subspecies A of Gené’s Cave Salamander. This was a site previously visited by Jan and myself. In the small cave, I found a male. Benny arrived shortly afterwards and added a juvenile to the findings.
After this nice first day, we hurried to the north and our Sopramonte stay. An excellent meal and a soft bed were waiting for us.

Jan heading towards salamander hill

female Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. B (Speleomantes genei)

female Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. B (Speleomantes genei)

female Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. B (Speleomantes genei)

Gijs inside the small gallery with Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. A (Speleomantes genei)

male Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. A (Speleomantes genei)

male Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. A (Speleomantes genei) with conspicuous nasolabial grooves and ‘tentacles’

young male Gené’s Cave Salamander - (sub)sp. A (Speleomantes genei)

26th of February – Sopramonte and Gennargentu

On this day, we hoped to find Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus) and Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis). The first day's results had made us feel optimistic, as we drove towards a mountain lake were Jan and I had seen many brook newts before. Frozen puddles on the unpaved road towards this spot made us start to fear for our success. Indeed, the lake and its impressive surroundings were still sleeping and not a single brook newt was to be found. Also lizard activity was still minimal - only a single Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri) was seen. Too bad - a first reason to revisit Sardinia… We tried to reach another canyon spot, but the roads were too difficult or turned out to be dead ends at bridges that had fallen apart. By the time we arrived at our selected area for Supramontane Cave Salamander, it had already started to get dark - too short days in this season! Two beautiful caves and a scrutinized forest slope later, we (Benny again) found a single juvenile. Tired of climbing and a little disappointed, we turned back to our excellent hotel.

entrance of ‘top cave’ for Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

juvenile Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

27th of February – northern coast

As the forecast announced rainy weather coming up within one or two days, we wanted to find Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae) on this day. This species is much more restricted here than on Corsica. Because of the early season, we did not bet on the mountain peak sites of the species, but chose a coastal site in the north. After quite a drive, we arrived at a nicely sculptured rocky hill at the coast. The common wall lizard species were soon spotted both. On the hill, in a small pool, there were larvae of Green Toad (Bufo viridis). On the top of the hill, we looked for the rock lizard. However, cold and strong wind and numerous clouds made this difficult. After a while, Gijs managed to find a single juvenile. Not really satisfactory, but still we were happy with this sighting. The animal displayed the typical blackish dorsal colour with small round pale spots. We carried on to another site for this lizard, which was a barren rock area at sea level. No luck, only Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard and Pygmy Algyroides to be seen, apart from nice birds like shearwaters. After having returned to Oliena, we drove up a very difficult unpaved road to the higher levels of the Sopramonte, to explore a small cave, where I previously had found Supramontane Cave Salamanders. Just before killing our car, we stopped and continued on foot. Nice revisit of the small pothole, but only bats and no salamanders. Very cold at this 1300m altitude!
Again not really a very succesful day, but some nice scenery and at least a baby rock lizard, so we remained hopeful for the days to come. Announced rise of temperatures and some rain seemed at least to be good prospects. In the evening, a very fortunate sms from Benny came to us! As we would try for Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus) the next day, he had stayed near Siniscola with his camper. Besides a tree frog, he had found 5 salamanders, including two large adults! Obviously, the schedule for the next morning was set to salamander photography.

female Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)

male Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)

young Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)

another habitat of Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae)?

Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri)

28th of February – flavus photos and no imperialis

First taking pictures of flavus and some other animals nearby. Then, we decided to try to find the Scented Cave Salamander (Speleomantes imperialis) in the northern part of its range (forma funereus). Jan and I knew a cave with many animals inside, so that seemed a good starting point. However, due to the modified landscape (including a new road), it took us several hours to locate this cave. Furthermore, the entrance had been ‘cleaned up’, with removal of vegetation and the installation of a stairway, leading to a brand new, indestructable fence and spotlights. The surrounding area was too high up to allow us to find animals outside the cave, given the preceeding frost days (and still cold, dry nights). Another known spot, with a flooded cave and a nice steep forested slope, also remained unsuccesful, even after practically freezing my toes off after wading through the cave.

Jan in habitat of Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)

female Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)

female Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)

Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)

Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus)

Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus)

Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) - found at the start of the endless cave search

the cursed cave…

1st of March – southern imperialis and a doorstep surprise

By now, it had become clear to us that low elevation sites should go first. So, we went to a beautiful wooded hill with a lot of holes and caves in it, in the southern part of the range of the Scented Cave Salamander. In this area, the more colourful forma imperialis occurs. Benny had arrived sooner than we did. While trying to catch three-toed skinks in the grassy fields at the foot of the hill and Gijs finding a baby Viperine Snake (Natrix maura), we received his (once more fantastic) sms from higher up, informing us of his discovery of several cave salamanders, including an adult! We were very happy and followed him up. On this climb, we found the three common lizards, Jan caught a three-toed skink, I caught a small Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) and found a male Green Toad under a stone. In total, we found 8 cave salamanders. We enjoyed the views from this hilltop and after photographing the several species, we started our drive back north, to our hotel. We stopped along the way at a site where a contact found Grass Snake (the attractive Natrix natrix cetti), at the banks of a broad river. No luck, but we found a tree frog and in a pool at the river’s edge -finally- I caught a Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus). We photographed the frog, as it started to rain quite heavily. After that, we drove back. On the road, about 100 Green Toads were out and about in this wet weather. It was still raining, as we arrived at our lodge. We dropped our gear in our room. Just before dinner, I went to pick up some stuff from the car, as I found an adult Sopramontane Cave Salamander on the steps of the entrance of our hotel! In the flower beds, bordered with stone walls, another four were active! Other parts of the surrounding forest hill were not occupied, as the strong wind hit most spots. In any case, a remarkably easy success!

Jan shooting Green Toad, Gijs taking a landscape shot, Benny coming back up after coffee, and Leonard standing by - action pic on the fortunate imperialis hill

male Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

Gijs photographing cave salamander

female of the beautiful forma imperialis of the Scented Cave Salamander (Speleomantes imperialis)

Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides)

young Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)

young Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)

preparing for rainy Discoglossus photography

male Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)

male Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)

female Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

male and female Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

chin gland of male Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)

2nd of March – beautiful but exhausting Sette Fratelli

After a little over 2 hours of driving, we reached the terra typica of the Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis), the final desired cave salamander species. Spending many hours exploring this lovely brook valley with waterfall, we only got extremely tired - not a single trace of a cave salamander. Beautiful place, though, with Western Whip Snake, Pygmy Algyroides, Tyrrhenian Painted Frog, Tyrrhenian Tree Frog, Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard and more. Trying out a different option, I drove up and down a bit, trying to reach a second good spot. Either way, I got stuck at about 7 to 8km of the destination. Too late to start hiking there, so another somewhat ‘lost’ day. Next try tomorrow, on our final day of searching…

3rd of March – beautiful hike & splendid reward

We decided to do the hike to this second salamander spot. First, again the long drive from the north - this time we cancelled the subsequent night, so we didn’t have to drive that far back anymore, so the next day would allow a swift transit to the airport.
The hike was 2x a little over 7km. We started off with mild rain, that stopped along the way. Sweat and humidity all over, as we were pretty tired from the previous days and the surrounding woods were dripping. We climbed and climbed through the beautiful wooded hills. A killed whip snake was on the road and underneath a hatch on a water source, there were about 4 painted frogs. We hoped for a Grass Snake to cross our path, but that didn’t happen. After a while, we reached a beautiful granite peak. Then, a rather steep but not very long part downhill. Finally, we arrived at a very wet hillside with water running out of it. We were rewarded with about 15 cave salamanders around a nice water source, coming out of a vertical, shady and amply vegetated slope. We then hiked back to the car and shortly explored a known excellent brook newt stream, next to it, with extremely cold water and without luck. Beautiful habitat, in any case.

Gijs arriving at salamander site

male Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)

male Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)

juvenile Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)

Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)

Sette Fratelli scenery

Sette Fratelli scenery

Gijs exploring the trip's final site - known top site for Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)

4th of March – back home & some small final frustration

We stayed at a nearby B&B and took off in mild spring weather. Tempting for a prolonged stay. While waiting to check in, we received confirmation that Benny had reached the spot with the cave salamanders too, as we got split up the previous day. Moreover, underneath a rusty metal sheet, which we had turned over the day before as well, he found a brook newt! Some major cursing followed from our part. Eventhough this species would not have been new to nor Jan or me, I tried to change flights, to stay on a little longer in the beautiful Sette Fratelli mountains, but that turned out to be too expensive. I'll be back!

me, Malaka, Jan, Benny, Leonard and Gijs

While this trip was more than succesful, it could have been better with more favourable (preceeding) weather conditions. Without the ‘lost’ days, we would certainly have tried to find tortoises and terrapins and did some more Grass Snake spots. Also, another visit to this mountain lake at the end of our trip, would have given a much bigger chance to find the brook newt. After all, we know from personal experience how common the species is (was???) at this site. There have been (aquatic) sightings of the species at this site throughout the year, but we guess that they venture down into the depths of the lake when it gets too cold. The mysterious and beautiful Sardinian Grass Snake is another reason for a future revisit to the island.

List of the observed species

*. Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus) - found by Benny at the exact spot where we were a day earlier
1. Monte Albo Cave Salamander (Speleomantes flavus)
2. Supramontane Cave Salamander (Speleomantes supramontis)
3. Scented Cave Salamander (Speleomantes imperialis) - forma imperialis
4. Sette Fratelli Cave Salamander (Speleomantes sarrabusensis)
5. Gené’s Cave Salamander (Speleomantes genei) - (sub)sp. A and (sub)sp. B
6. Tyrrhenian Painted Frog (Discoglossus sardus)
7. Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) balearicus)
8. Tyrrhenian Tree Frog (Hyla sarda)
9. Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
10. Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)
*. Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) - seen by Benny prior to our arrival
11. Pygmy Algyroides (Algyroides fitzingeri)
12. Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard (Podarcis tiliguerta)
13. Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis siculus) - subsp. cetti has been shown to be synonymous with nominal siculus
14. Tyrrhenian Rock Lizard (Archaeolacerta bedriagae) - different subspecies best treated all as one - sardoa
15. Italian Three-toed Skink (Chalcides chalcides vittatus)
16. Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus tiligugu)
17. Viperine Snake (Natrix maura)
18. Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus)
*. After we left, Benny also found Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata), Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), and introduced water frogs (Pelophylax sp.). Also, some more rock lizards, leaf-toed geckoes, etc.

What we missed …

1. Sardinian Brook Newt (Euproctus platycephalus)
2. introduced water frogs (Pelophylax sp.)
3. the three Testudo spp.
6. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
7. Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
8. Horseshoe Whip Snake (Hemorrhois hippocrepis)
9. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix cetti)
*. Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis sp.) - presence in need of confirmation

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