Herpetofauna of Europe : nw spain (april-may 2012)
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Herpetological trip to NW Spain
27th of April - 6th of May 2012

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

Ah, the Atlantic north of Spain! Since long, one of the most notable gaps in my herpeto travels. Receiving much more rain than the remainder of the Iberian Peninsula, this area is characterised by green and lush, rolling hills. It is exactly these humid conditions that allow a number of specific herpetofauna taxa to thrive here. These include a variety of fire salamander subspecies, rock lizards, … .

No need to explain that there was enough reason for Bobby, Wouter and me to pick this region as this year’s spring destination. Jan, Bert and GertJan joined in, completing a small and efficient, half Belgian, half Dutch crew. Excellent company!

Overall temperatures and humidity during the trip resulted in our camping gear staying in the trunk throughout the trip. Lots of rain, favouring large numbers of amphibians to be observed, but also our major reptile targets were met. We found 37 species, of which 16 amphibians and 21 reptiles, plus a snake that only let us see his ex-shirt.

Many thanks for info go to Benny Trapp, Frank Deschandol, Bert Willaert, Bram Conings, Jan Ranson, Geert Carette, Guido Kreiner, Peter Oefinger, Frank Pasmans, Matthieu Berroneau, Gabriel Martinez, Thomas Reich, Cesar Ayres, Patrick Fitze, … .


prospected sites indicated with appropriate icons



April 27th – evening start & insomnia

We decided to drive all the way south to Spain from our northern lowlands’ homes. I was the last to be picked up by the crazy bunch.


the fearsome “one boa for 900 euro” mad men mobile arrives at my house

The nocturnal drive was looooong but we were all excited to get going. The fun had already begun.

April 28th – 15 wet species

As we entered Spain during the first hours of daylight, it soon became obvious that we were in for extremely wet and rather cold weather. A short stop at a little church to stretch our legs, where Wouter found our first official species - a frozen Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis). Next, on to the border area of Cantabria and Castilla y Leon. Some soaked stops at a water tank and a Salamandra spot with Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus), larvae of Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans), a juvenile Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica), Common Toad (Bufo bufo), Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita), Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus), Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanicus), Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) and 6 Marbled Newts (Triturus marmoratus) under a single rock.


habitat of Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)


Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)


hiding from the rain – © Bobby Bok


Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus)


found here…

We concluded the day near the Embalse de Ebro. A nice watertank in the village where we spent the night held Palmate Newt, Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris), a few larvae of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and Grass Frog (Rana temporaria). Needless to say, we were all rather busy photographing all those nice animals.


let’s get started! – 6 amphibian species site, with Jan and GJ admiring caught newts and Bobby admiring his own reflection


Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris cyreni) – female and male


Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris cyreni) - male


Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

After dinner - omelet with gambas seems to be a popular starter in the area, but becomes rather chewy when served with 5-year old beans - , back into the woods for a first bit of ‘mandering! Action! Not easy… Too much vegetation? Too much beer? In the end, we found the trip’s first 2 adult animals.


first of the trip - Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) – intergrade between subspecies fastuosa and bejarae

April 29th – viper time!

This day had the potential of turning into a viper hattrick, with three species on the menu. First, we tried to find Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei) near the lake. Chasing clouds for a small sunny spot, but too much wind so no luck. We did, however, turn up Natterjack Toad, Common Toad and a *new* species for me – Iberian Tree Frog (Hyla molleri).


Iberian Tree Frog (Hyla molleri)

Next, we moved out of seoanei territory and into the very nearby range of Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei). A beautiful roadside stop with low vegetation and rocks on the hills was visited at the time of that day’s first real rays of sunlight – 3 vipers were found & we started to forget a little bit about the cold and the rain. Other species here included our first (and most possibly only) Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) and Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus), as well as Marbled Newt.


GJ looking for vipers


on site photography with Bert and Bobby


miss viper and me – © Bobby Bok


Bobby with latastei


Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)


Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)


Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)


Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)


Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)


Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)


Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)


Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus) – photographer was too lazy to wait for more relaxed pose…


Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata)


wonderful herpetofauna habitat


Wouter shooting newts

Less than half an hour away, there are good spots for another viper species – Asp Viper (Vipera aspis). Within moments, Jan caught one. We also tried our luck at a known hybridisation spot, but without success (too late in the day).


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)


Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)

By nightfall, we continued west to our next general area of interest in the Cantabrian mountains. Checked in to our hotel and after dinner another hike in the rain. With lots of the small-sized Fire Salamander subspecies Salamandra salamandra bernardezi and a huge Grass Frog (ssp. parvipalmata).


Grass Frog (Rana temporaria parvipalmata) – a real giant


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra bernardezi)

After this great hike, we went for a good night’s sleep.

April 30th – monticola and alfredschmidti

A chilly start. After all the hard work of the day before, a little bit slow at first, but then some brief sunshine at the mountain glacial lakes sufficed for some Iberian Rock Lizards (Iberolacerta monticola cantabrica) to be seen.


waking up after a great day and night, and at the start of yet another one


blue hotel and me – © Bobby Bok


Lago Enol


Iberian Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta monticola cantabrica)


Iberian Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta monticola cantabrica) – as usual, rather easy to approach

Next stop, Marea Valley. First a stone quarry with nothing much. Then, into the woods with meadows and brooks. Swiftly, we found our first animals of the subspecies Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti. Also a tiny Iberian Stream Frog (Rana iberica) and with surprisingly big effort finally a first Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei).


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


Iberian Stream Frog (Rana iberica)


Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)


Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)

Not that much further away, we drove into the famous Tendi Valley and started first with a good spot for Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica). After finding a few of them, and among others a number of Bosca’s Newt (Lissotriton boscai) in a tiny roadside ditch, we hit a top spot with abundant Fire Salamanders.


Chioglossa hunt


Chioglossa down by the brook at the left, boscai at the foot of the slope at the right - © Bobby Bok


Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica) with incomplete tail


Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica)


Bosca’s Newt (Lissotriton boscai)


Bosca’s Newt (Lissotriton boscai)


Wouter looking for salamanders


GJ at alfredschmidti hotspot


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra alfredschmidti)


salamanderism – © Bobby Bok

We slept in a small town along the highway, so a night without nocturnal herping just for once, after another great day.


checking in to just another hotel

May 1st – the quest for Iberolacerta galani

First goal was some spots for Vipera seoanei cantabrica. Crossing the range of this subspecies, it seemed like all of its natural area was characterised by even worse weather than before – very cold and fog, rain, hailstones, …
After our previous success with monticola we were relatively optimistic about finding that other northwestern rock lizard – Galan’s Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta galani). First, we drove to a spot with vipers and lizards near the terra typica of the lizard species. Rain, wind, and, while having a silly quick look at the terra typica at about 1700m absl, cold and snow.


lung spoiling as a remedy against too clean mountain air - © Jan Van Der Voort

Luckily, I had anticipated this ‘failure’ and collected information on sites at lower elevation. So, we continued to another galani site at about 1100m absl. First, we benefited from a brief sunny (but windy) period after hours on end of rain and dark clouds. This offered Iberian Wall Lizard, Ocellated Lizard, two Southern Smooth Snakes (Coronella girondica) and an unexpected Ladder Snake (Rhinechis scalaris). Not bad…


Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)


Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanicus morphotype 1A)


Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)


Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)


Ladder Snake (Rhinechis scalaris)

Arriving at the galani site a little late, an anxious but unsuccesful search started, which however did deliver our first Schreiber’s Green Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi) and Bocage’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei).


Schreiber’s Green Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi)


Schreiber’s Green Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi)


Schreiber’s Green Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi) - juvenile

We checked in to a hotel nearby, hoping for more luck the next morning.

May 2nd – nearly no Iberolacerta galani

Back to the little mountain village for rock lizards. Rain and very strong wind. GJ sort of saved the day by finding a tiny juvenile under a rock.


Galan’s Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta galani) – our only specimen this time…


this Bocage’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei) is so desperate to bask that she doesn’t let the rain drops on her back change her mind

And on again.

Next stop was a beautiful beach at the Galician west coast. Of course not for sunbathing or swimming, but for some interesting lizard species, including Bedriaga’s Skink (Chalcides bedriagai pistaciae). Luckily, they could all be found under stones, as the air was still packed with dark clouds and strong wind.


nice site at the Galician west coast


Bob on the beach


Jan on the beach


Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)


Bedriaga’s Skink (Chalcides bedriagai pistaciae)


Bedriaga’s Skink (Chalcides bedriagai pistaciae)


skink habitat


sea view and lizard habitat


Bocage’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei)


Bocage’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei)


Bocage’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei)


subadult Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)


male Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)


Bert & Timon


female Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)


this couple were found together under the same rock (male at the right, female at the left)

By nightfall, we found ourselves again a small place to stay, and during torrential rain we went for a pizza. After that, we visited the Arousa islet a little before midnight. A chorus of tree frogs, as well as observations of numerous Iberian Painted Frog (Discoglossus galganoi) and some newts were made.


darkish big momma Iberian Painted Frog (Discoglossus galganoi)


striped Iberian Painted Frog (Discoglossus galganoi)


female Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus) in a shallow puddle on the track


baby Bosca’s Newt (Lissotriton boscai) hiking in the rain

No fire salamanders found at sea level, so at about 02:00am we continued to an area with a literature record for them. Hard to tell where you’re going in the dark, but a little guessing with the help of GPS and topo map landed us at a fantastic overgrown brook valley. It kept raining while we found Golden-striped Salamanders, Bosca’s Newt, Iberian Stream Frog, a single painted frog and about 9 Fire Salamanders with varying degree of red pigmentation – actually one of my main personal goals for this trip. Overjoyed, we headed for bed at about 05:00am.


Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica)


couple of Bosca’s Newt (Lissotriton boscai)


Iberian Stream Frog (Rana iberica) with leeches


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra gallaica)

May 3rd – ‘bye to Wouter, swift Emys and no cantabrica

First back to the salamander site, to release a few animals we had kept overnight.


Wouter returns from salamander release

Final spot together with Wouter (who stayed for another week, while the rest of us would be heading back east (and home after that)) was a sand quarry with multiple ponds and a site for the rare Iberian subspecies of European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis fritzjuergenobsti). Arriving at one of the ponds by himself, Wouter spotted 2 individuals. The rest of us arrived at this pond as well, but as the clouds closed again for bad weather, the terrapins didn’t reappear, so we dropped Wouter off.


the day the terrapins never came back


GJ says ‘go, go!’ - © Bobby Bok

Headed east for another shot at that devilish Vipera seoanei cantabrica. Driving through the most exquisite habitat and beautiful scenery, cold rain constantly poured down. Just before sunset, it stopped for a short while, so we parked at the first instant. No luck, as the slope we selected showed signs of a relatively recent fire. Too bad…
A highway hotel without nocturnal herping and a little bit too much to drink ended this rather unsuccesful day.


mental collapse near the terra typica of Vipera seoanei cantabrica in the town of Seoane do Caurel

May 4th – again the end of the list, and a fantastic night in France

Still a bit of a drive ahead to reach a site for the ‘new’ species in the Psammodromus hispanicus group, that neither of us had ever seen. First, a known viper site near Burgos, but nothing much except Ocellated Lizard. Too wet, too cold, … - always the same story.
After several hours on the road, conditions started to improve, as we headed inland to a place at about 50km south of Pamplona. Very soon, a few Catalonian Wall Lizards (Podarcis liolepis), a species we had missed due to the awful conditions on our way west. Nice. Then, the trip’s 4th Southern Smooth Snake. Finally, some real sunshine and less wind, as a few Spanish Psammodromus popped up. Luckily, temperature made them slow enough to catch for some photography.


Jan off for a(nother) final European species


Catalonian Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis)


Catalonian Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis)


baby Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)


finally a little warmer …


there he is !


Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus s.s.)


Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus s.s.)


GJ and Bob better hurry with their photography, as rain clouds approach once more…

So what to do next? More Spanish viper searching seemed pointless, given the weather conditions and the drives involved. Why not try a part of the lower W Pyrenees? Surely good for some amphibians and with a miracle perhaps some Seoane’s Vipers (after all, the most missed species of the trip so far, in comparison to our expectations)? Let’s go for it!

A super-short search at the end of the day, arriving in the area. Then, a slightly more luxurious hotel nearby and dinner with 3 courses for a change. Then it was back on the curvy roads for amphibian fun. First some breeding Common Toads at fish ponds. Then, the first Fire Salamanders on the road. As we approached our target – a pristine mountain torrent – and the road turned from paved into bumpy, the number of Fire Salamanders became impossible to count - literally several hundreds. Also a nice badger sighting, when the furry guy hurried across the road and out of the reach of our headlights.


back in early spring in the Pyrenees - Common Toad (Bufo bufo) doing lumbar amplexus


Common Toad (Bufo bufo) - mistaken in yet another way

Arriving at the brook, the salamander party had just begun. Huge numbers of animals out and about (eventhough hardly any rain since we had entered France), including a lot of females depositing larvae. Also some of the expected Pyrenean Brook Newts (Calotriton asper) and a couple of Grass Frogs. No Palmate Newt, nor tadpoles of Pyrenean Stream Frog (Rana pyrenaica) at this time.


it’s mander time !


mandering with GJ


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Pyrenean Brook Newt (Calotriton asper)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


larvae of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Grass Frog (Rana temporaria)


Pyrenean Brook Newt (Calotriton asper) and Salamandra larva


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)


Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra fastuosa)

Again, a late but unforgettable night.

May 5th – making up for lack of seoanei & a small frog success

We decided to have a quick final viper search before doing the > 1100km home. Strong wind, but sunny. Bert and GJ showed to be the most persistent viper boys and GJ found 3 Seoane’s Vipers, as well as Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara). Nice!


Jan and seoanei habitat


Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)


Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)


Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)

And why not try for that elusive little frog again? We were just too closeby to resist… Within minutes, Jan popped back up out of the brook valley with the target species – Pyrenean Stream Frog (Rana pyrenaica) - a very nice way to end our trip.


back at the brook


Pyrenean Stream Frog (Rana pyrenaica)

Just before reaching the highway and starting the long drive north, we wanted to explore a known site for Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus), but only found a bunch of hippies/gypsies.

Again a looooooooooong drive, as we hurried home through France. Fell into bed at 3:30am.

List of the observed species

1. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) – subspecies bernardezi, alfredschmidti, gallaica, fastuosa and an intergrade bejarae/fastuosa
2. Golden-striped Salamander (Chioglossa lusitanica)
3. Pyrenean Brook Newt (Calotriton asper)
4. Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)
5. Bosca’s Newt (Lissotriton boscai)
6. Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) – subspecies cyreni
7. Marbled Newt (Triturus marmoratus)
8. Common Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans)
9. Iberian Painted Frog (Discoglossus galganoi)
10. Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita)
11. Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
12. Iberian Tree Frog (Hyla molleri)
13. Iberian Stream Frog (Rana iberica)
14. Pyrenean Stream Frog (Rana pyrenaica)
15. Grass Frog (Rana temporaria) – ssp. temporaria and parvipalmata
16. Iberian Water Frog (Pelophylax perezi)
17. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) – ssp. fritzjuergenobsti, only seen by Wouter
18. Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus s.s.)
19. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
20. Catalonian Wall Lizard (Podarcis liolepis)
21. Iberian Wall Lizard s.l. (Podarcis hispanicus) - morphotype 1A
22. Bocage’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis bocagei)
23. Iberian Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta monticola) – ssp. cantabrica
24. Galan’s Rock Lizard (Iberolacerta galani)
25. Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata)
26. Schreiber’s Green Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi)
27. Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus)
28. Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) - ssp. louislantzi
29. Western Three-toed Skink (Chalcides striatus)
30. Bedriaga’s Skink (Chalcides bedriagai) - ssp. pistaciae
31. Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
32. Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
33. Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica)
34. Ladder Snake (Rhinechis scalaris)
**. Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) – only a shed skin
35. Seoane’s Viper (Vipera seoanei)
36. Asp Viper (Vipera aspis)
37. Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei)

What we missed …

Strangely, no Natrix this time. At the few warmer southern places we visited, we missed Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus). Only a shed skin of Western Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus). Other than that, it is fair to say that we found almost everything, and that neither of these species received dedicated time to search for. After all, who can complain for landing in salamander heaven…?

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