Herpetofauna of Europe : samos - greece (october 2009)
Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to Samos
16th - 23th of October 2009

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck.
Make sure you also check out Bobby's report.

The Greek island of Samos has the highest herpetofauna species richness of all islands in the Aegean Sea and one of the highest among all Greek islands. While some doubt exists whether certain species are actually present on the island, a preparational search delivered a list of 27 species, plus one of possible but doubtful presence (Dice Snake, Natrix tessellata). On the other hand, the abundance of many species is said to be rather low, in comparison to other island and mainland populations. Being a large group, this trip allowed us to find the majority of the Samos herpetofauna, albeit in low numbers, indeed. We found 24 species (4 amphibians, 20 reptiles). However, one of these was only found dead, while another two could not be photographed. We could confirm the presence of Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer), but not that of Dice Snake. I kindly invite anyone who has proof of the existence of Samos populations of the latter species to get in touch.
Our team was big, international and very pleasant company. Some people we had never met before, turned out to be agreeable travel companions and dedicated herp hunters. The names: Jan (B), Lea (GAM), Gijs (B/NL), Peter (B), Anniek (B), Gerd (B), Jos (B), Ilias (GR), Leonard (MT), Liam (UK), Daniel (D), Tekla (NL), Bobby (NL) and me (B).
We are indebted to Edoardo Razzetti, Maria Dimaki, Andreas Meyer, David Buttle, Ronald Laan and Sascha Schmidt for info on observation sites.

overview of prospected sites

October 16th - southeastern coast and transit to our stay

After a sleepless night, we arrived on Samos in the early morning. On our way to our southwestern coastal stay, we explored a flat coastal area with a nearly completely dry riverbed. In some remaining puddles, we easily found Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) and Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae). In the maquis, a baby Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio), Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans), Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) and Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii). Near an old building, Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)) and our first snake, a juvenile Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum). While the rest was having a break and a bite, Bobby could not sit still, and found a gravid Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). A very nice start. Next, a stop in the southern central part of the island, with Starred Agama and a couple of Anatolian Rock Lizards (Anatololacerta anatolica). Splitting up the group, one van drove back to the airport to pick up Leonard, while the other continued west through the central southern area. Both dead on the road, the first team found a Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius), while the other found a beautiful striped Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla). Arriving at our apartments in the southwest, we found Starred Agama. After dark, quite some Turkish Gecko.

this little Easter egg was our only living Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

habitat of our first snake with Tekla, Jos, Lea, Anniek, Liam, Daniel, Bobby and Jan

Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum)

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) - same animal

Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)

Jan, Gerd and Ablepharus - © Daniel Bohle

DOR Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla) - © Daniel Bohle

October 17th - Eryx and Natrix

In the morning, a big killed Caspian Whip Snake was found among the olive trees next to our apartments. We drove up to Pythagoras Cave. Along the road and at the cave, we found the 2 most common lizards (Starred Agama and Snake-eyed Lacertid). Leonard surprised us with a subadult Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus). Another snake was spotted, but remained unidentified. Next, on to an advised viper spot, with only the 2 common lizards again. We ended with exploring the surroundings of a water reservoir. Water frogs, and during a second visit after dark with mild to medium rain, we found a good looking Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).

Jos having breakfast by our pool

Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)

Eryx photography (Jan, Jos, Leonard, Gijs and me) - © Daniel Bohle

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

UV image of a scorpion - © Daniel Bohle

October 18th - Psili Ammos and around Mytilini

First, we went to pick up Ilias at the airport. Little bit of rain still. DOR, we found Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) variabilis). Then, we continued east to the Psili Ammos wetland. The lake was only wet due to the previous night’s rains, but dry besides that. Rather disappointing result for this otherwise special habitat: Starred Agama, Snake-eyed Lacertid, Anatolian Rock Lizard, Levant Water Frog, Dahl’s Whip Snake and Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus). Then, we explored the Mytilini area. This proved to be quite rewarding, even though some slopes showed markings of fires in the recent past. We heard Common Tree Frog (Hyla (arborea) orientalis) and found Snake-eyed Skink, Levant Water Frog, Green Toad, Levant Skink (Trachylepis aurata), Dahl’s Whip Snake, Anatolian Rock Lizard, Balkan Terrapin, Snake-eyed Lacertid, Balkan Green Lizard, Starred Agama, Glass Lizard, Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus), Turkish Gecko, and Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina). The latter was seen (but not caught) by Peter. Unfortunately and despite serious searching, our observations of this highly desired species remained at this single sighting in a well-known area for this species. The Levant Skink was re-encountered afterwards (see below), but also remained unfortunately unphotographed. Each time we found a specimen, waiting and waiting and waiting for it to come back out did not work. Shy little critters…

Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)

Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) variabilis)

Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus)

photographing Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus) - Tekla, Lea, Peter, Jan, Anniek, Liam, Gerd, Gijs and Jos

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) on the roof

Peter exploring a rubbish dump

our armada with Bobby as its security guard

October 19th - pool finding and Manolates

In the morning, Leonard found a baby Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) in our swimming pool! After ample admiration, we left for the northern town of Manolates. This is a particularly moist area, with nice woods, begging for the likes of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra). Near the town itself, we found Anatolian Rock Lizard, Starred Agama, Snake-eyed Skink, Levant Water Frog and a second shy Levant Skink. Going back down, we stopped along the beautiful brook near a nice vineyard with drystone walls and a nice mixture of shade and sunny spots. Interrupted by some showers, we found Levant Water Frog, Starred Agama, another shy Levant Skink, Common Toad and Balkan Green Lizard. Some other spots visited during the rest of the day, did not yield much more.

Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)

habitat of Cat Snake ;-)

Anatolian Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta anatolica)

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

roadside view

roadside view with Natrix reservoir in sight

photographer photographing photographer photographing photographer

Lea & local fruit

October 20th - central southern area

A beautiful river valley with another water reservoir provided our two first stops of the day. After admiring some cute pigs near the reservoir, we spread over the valley. Of course, again Starred Agama and Snake-eyed Lacertid. In the more humid places, also Glass Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Anatolian Rock Lizard and Snake-eyed Skink. The riverbed itself had Levant Water Frog and a second Grass Snake. Underneath some hatches, some Turkish Gecko. Also a dead Common Toad and inside the reservoir a couple of Balkan Terrapins. Common Tree Frog was heard again. I was lucky to find a 1m44 Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer), lying stretched out in the shade. Going back down along the river, we soon stopped once more. Here, we found most of the same species and finally our first living Caspian Whip Snakes: two juveniles and a 1m90 semi-blind adult. The latter is so far our largest European snake ever (albeit Samos is actually geographically part of Asia). Of course, this giant was caught by our main snake man, Peter… In the heat of the day, we went back to our chameleon spot. Not much new here, except a Green Toad and a Sand Boa skin. Then, at dusk, we went back to the xanthina spot. No luck… We ate nearby and went back for a nocturnal chameleon search. Several juveniles were found, as well as a Balkan Green Lizard that had climbed up a bush to sleep with the chameleons.

overview of habitat of a.o. Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer) - © Daniel Bohle

Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer)

snake admiration - Daniel, Anniek, Liam, Bobby, Leonard, Tekla, Jos, Ilias, a piece of Lea and Caspian Whip

Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius) - 1m90

juvenile Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)

Jan - © Daniel Bohle

Ilias and caspius - © Daniel Bohle

Peter - © Daniel Bohle

me - © Daniel Bohle

terrapin heaven

basking Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

baby Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

baby Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

remarkable Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae)

Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) that wishes it was a chameleon - © Bobby Bok

October 21th - southwest and west

Some spots closer to our stay. First an excellent known viper spot. Despite searching with many people for two hours, no result but Levant Water Frog, Snake-eyed Skink, Starred Agama and 2 juvenile Glass Lizards. Next, a search in the far east of the island. Not really rewarding once more: the 2 common lizards, Balkan Green Lizard, Common Toad and Caspian Whip Snake. Finally, after enjoying some snacks, local pets and a nice view, another dusk search with nothing but Starred Agama.

juvenile Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)

cute snake killers everywhere - © Daniel Bohle

Tekla, Anniek and Liam - © Daniel Bohle

shepherd looking for his sheep

the truth about low snake abundances on Samos ?

October 22th - east, north, south and the hunt for the tessellata ghost

Having to drop off Leonard at the airport in the early afternoon, we revisited the Mytilini area before that. Leonard said goodbye to Samos by catching a medium-sized Caspian Whip Snake and this time we also saw some tree frogs. Then, we went looking for a hinted spot for Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) in the north of the island. The so-called spot turned out to be in a recently burned area with little or no herps (Snake-eyed Lacertid and a Dwarf Snake shed). Disappointed, we wanted a sure water spot and went to the Mytilini reservoir. Not rewarding: only the 2 common lizards and Levant Water Frog. While driving back to our stay, we spotted another reservoir, which seemed to be situated in a very interesting herping area. However, we only got there when the sun had gone down. Our last Samos herps were seen here: Balkan Terrapin, Levant Water Frog, Turkish Gecko and a baby Mediterranean Chameleon.

Common Tree Frog (Hyla (arborea) orientalis)

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)

my last look at a Samos herp - Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

final night at our excellent restaurant - Liam, Peter, Anniek, Gijs, Gerd, Jos, Jan and Lea - © Daniel Bohle

closing time and final Mythos (me, Bobby, Daniel and Liam) - © Daniel Bohle

nocturnalism - © Daniel Bohle

nocturnalism - © Daniel Bohle

nocturnalism - © Daniel Bohle

October 23th - back home


Does the herpetofauna in Samos occur in low numbers? Although our trip was in the suboptimal part of the year, we would have to agree. Comparing with other areas and other autumn trips, it is strange how even the most common species are clearly less abundant than elsewhere. We only found about 20 to 30 living snake specimens. Even in autumn, a group of 14 people should be able to find more e.g. on the Greek mainland. Not being able to catch nor photograph Ottoman Viper and Levant Skink was rather disappointing. For sure, “xanthina” was the most commonly used word on this trip. Like on other autumn trips, the rather abundant Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis) appeared to be fast asleep. At the single site known to us for European Pond Terrapin, we tried to spot it. Checking on every terrapin for about 1 hour, no Emys was found. This species seems to be -at least- very rare. The same seems to go for the Dice Snake. We were informed of two spots for this species. One of these was searched for several times, night and day. A second spot was not found or is maybe even fictuous. Exploring larger water reservoirs (4) did not allow any sighting of this species either.

Conclusively, we found a large portion of the Samos herpetofauna and look back on a succesful and very enjoyable week on a beautiful island.

Jos, Leonard, Gerd, Jan, Lea, Tekla, Anniek, Peter, Liam, Gijs, Daniel and Ilias standing up; me and Bobby below

List of the observed species

1. Green Toad (Bufo (viridis) variabilis) - 3 + 1 DOR
2. Common Toad (Bufo bufo) - 2 + 2 DOR
3. Common Tree Frog (Hyla (arborea) orientalis) - heard at 2 sites and 4 seen at one of them
4. Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriagae) - common, in nearly every source of fresh water
5. Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) - only a single juvenile and a carapax
6. Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) - common
7. Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) - common
8. Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) - 8 juveniles and 1 adult at one site; one juvenile at another site
9. Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio) - common and widespread but numbers not as high as elsewhere
10. Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans) - common and widespread but numbers not as high as elsewhere
11. Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) - quite common in the lusher areas, but typically easier to find in spring
12. Anatolian Rock Lizard (Anatololacerta anatolica) - low numbers but observed at quite a number of sites
13. Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii) - common but typically less often seen than in spring
14. Levant Skink (Trachylepis aurata) - 3 seen, none photographed
15. Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus) - typically secretive in autumn, but at a couple of sites, incl. 2 juveniles
16. Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) - 1
17. Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius) - 5-10 + 2 dead ones
18. Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum) - 5-10
19. Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer) - 1
20. Dwarf Snake (Eirenis modestus) - 1
21. Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla) - 1 DOR; striped morph
22. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) - 2
23. Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax) - 1 juvenile
24. Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) - 1 seen, none caught or photographed

What we missed …

1. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) - certainly very rare and restricted, but recent records exist
2. Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis) - typical autumn failure?
3. Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) - did not visit the Malpolon hotspot area of the island, because we were more keen on catching vipers...
? Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) - despite a couple of recently claimed sightings, to our knowledge, not a single picture of a Dice Snake from Samos seems to exist; confusion with stripeless Natrix natrix?
??? Only a single record of about a century old exists for Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi).
??? Presence of Anatolian Worm Lizard (Blanus strauchi) has been cited by some, although there does not seem to be any record of this species.

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Last update: June 03, 2014 15:24:22