Herpetofauna of Europe : s bulgaria (may 2005)
Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip in southern Bulgaria
5 May - 15 May 2005

All pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck except the last one by Jan Van Der Voort.

This is yet another report of a more than successful herp hunting trip. The Hyla crew (Jan, Mark, Elfriede, Anniek, Peter, Gerd, Robert, Patrick, Gijs, Leen, Didier, Stefaan, Johan and myself) was guided through the best herpetological sites in southern Bulgaria by Boyan Petrov and Nikolay Tzankov. Forty-four species of amphibians (15) and reptiles (29) were observed. Main areas covered were the southern Black Sea coast, Eastern Rhodopes, Western Rhodopes, Struma river valley and a short visit to Rila mountains. The most remarkable observations were Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris) and the discovery of a yet to be determined taxon of water frog (Pelophylax sp. - see end of report). Only 7 species of the known Bulgarian herpetofauna were not found. Two of those (Common Spadefoot (Pelobates fuscus) and Danube Crested Newt (Triturus dobrogicus)) are not present in southern Bulgaria, while Orsini's Viper (Vipera ursinii) is probably extinct from Bulgaria. The four other species are all snake species with limited distribution and/or secretive habits. The high number of species is due to some highly motivated herphunters and especially some very capable snake catchers. More importantly, however, the local guidance, provided by Boyan and Nikolay, made it possible to visit a high number of rich sites in a short period of time, of which I am extremely grateful. Their experience and knowledge on Bulgarian herpetofauna (and other living things) is vast and we benefited enormously from this.
Apart from our guides and the team of which I was part, I would like to thank Borislav Naumov, Deyan Duchalov and Alexander Westerström for some information prior to our trip.

map of Bulgaria with indication of prospected sites

5 May - southern Black Sea coast (1)

We flew to Burgas the previous night (already a wild cat (Felis sylvestris) on the way) and stayed in a hotel at Primorsko, at the southern Black Sea Coast. Boyan guided us to several very interesting spots, which already resulted in an unbelievably high number of species for this first day. Our first stop was a known site for Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris). Besides this species, we found many species at this site and in the surrounding woods: Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea), Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina), Hermann's Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca), Large or Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius), Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes), Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus), Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) and some juveniles of Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii). We had lunch at the beach of Arkutino and found Green Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) and Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata). Just uphill from the beach, we found Caspian Whip Snake, Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus), Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) and some more juveniles of Balkan Crested Newt. In the marsh of Arkutino, we found Grass Snake, Marsh Frog, European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) and Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina). We visited another site in the area and discovered a new locality for Reddish Whip Snake, syntopic with Glass Lizard, Caspian Whip Snake, Marsh Frog, Agile Frog, Nose-horned Viper, Grass Snake, Common Wall Lizard and Green Lizard. At night, we returned to Arkutino and also found Eastern Spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus) and Common Toad (Bufo bufo). On the walls in Primorsko were some Kotschy's Geckos (Mediodactylus kotschyi).

juveniles of Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii)

Gijs admiring a Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)

the first Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris) - note incomplete collar, small postocular white spot and incomplete tail

Caspian Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)

Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris) from the newly discovered site - 64,5 cm so a rather large animal

portrait of the same animal

male Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes) - underneath same piece of junk as Glass Lizard and Caspian Whip Snake

Eastern Spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus)

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

juvenile Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca)

Fire-Bellied Toad (Bombina bombina)

6 May - southern Black Sea coast (2)

A second visit to the Arkutino marsh allowed us to add Hermann's Tortoise, Green Lizard, Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates), Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and Balkan Crested Newt to the observations we made at that site. Afterwards, we went for a walk through the woods and the dunes towards the mouth of Ropotamo river. Both tortoises, Glass Lizard, Balkan Wall Lizard, Caspian Whip Snake, Dice Snake and Marsh Frog were observed. Jan and Patrick also spotted an otter (Lutra lutra) in the sea. Later, we went to a forest where Boyan retrieved fat dormouse (Glis glis) from some bat-boxes. Agile Frog, Marsh Frog, Grass Snake and juvenile Balkan Crested Newt were the only herps we found in the rain.

male Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii)

juvenile of Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates)

view over Ropotamo river

7 May - southern Black Sea coast (3)

Driving from Primorsko south towards the Turkish border, we visited a potential site for Reddish Whip Snake. We did not find it but found European Pond Terrapin, Grass Snake, Marsh Frog, Green Lizard, Balkan Wall Lizard, Dice Snake, Nose-horned Viper, Glass Lizard, Caspian Whip Snake and the first Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus). We went on, to the mouth of Veleka river, and found Marsh Frog, Dice Snake and larvae of Green Toad (Bufo viridis). A final search stop, near the town of Kosti, brought us Green Toad, Common Toad larvae, a juvenile Aesculapian Snake, Common Wall Lizard, Green Lizard, Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) and Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola).
At the first stop of the day, a caught and then again released Caspian Whip Snake escaped by climbing into the bottom of one of our buses! After a few kilometers, Jan noticed that the front bus had some strange tube coming out of its lower surface, so we stopped and managed to 'save' the snake and set it free in a suitable habitat.

bunch of DOR herpetophiles?

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio) – very, very common

woods near Kosti - good for e.g. Aesculapian Snake and Meadow Lizard

juvenile Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)

Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis)

Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)

8 May – from Primorsko to Madjarovo a.k.a. Black Sea coast to Eastern Rhodopes

First stop at a bird reserve south of Burgas, with tons of Dice Snake and also Balkan Green Lizard. Then, past Svilengrad, we stopped at a castle ruin where we found Montpellier Snake and quite some (previously at the site unrecorded) Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum). Our nearby and fourth stop was at a place rich of lizard species and we found Green Lizard, Balkan Wall Lizard, Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans) and Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii). Next, we hiked to an archeological "silent stones" site and found Slow Worm, Snake-eyed Skink, Balkan Wall Lizard, Agile Frog and Common Newt. In the evening at the NICCER eco-lodge, we found Marsh Frog, Common Toad and Common Tree Frog.

Dahl's Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum) caught by Patrick (of course ...)

same animal – note complete collar

just one more …

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)

Didier, Gijs and Stefaan looking for lizards

Parnassius mnemosyne

Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)

Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus)

Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)

sunset on Arda river

9 May – Eastern Rhodopes (near Madjarovo)

Two major types of habitats were covered: banks and surroundings of Arda river and smaller brooks connected to Arda river. The first was visited to find Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) but no luck this time, though we did find Green Lizard, Glass Lizard, Green Toad, Dice Snake, Marsh Frog and the first Worm Snakes (Typhlops vermicularis). The smaller brooks were inhabited by Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata), Marsh Frog, Common Newt, Grass Snake and larvae of Common Toad and Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and Balkan Green Lizard was found on the banks of one of the brooks.

Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)

Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis)

brook with Yellow-Bellied Toad, Common Newt, Common Toad and Fire Salamander

larva of Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata)

juvenile Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)

10 May – Eastern Rhodopes: further exploration

First target was Perperikon archeological site. At and around the site, we found Green Lizard, Erhard's Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii), Dice Snake, Grass Snake, Marsh Frog, Caspian Whip Snake, both tortoises, Dahl's Whip Snake, Aesculapian Snake, Agile Frog, Nose-horned Viper and European Pond Terrapin. Two further brooks were visited and Marsh Frog, Yellow-bellied Toad, Common Newt, Grass Snake, Balkan Green Lizard, Nose-horned Viper, Hermann's Tortoise, Fire Salamander (DOR and larvae) and Green Lizard were found in and around them.

Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca) resting after its breakfast

Erhard's Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)

lives here…

portrait of Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

king of the rock - "Hairy Whitebreast"

11 May – from Eastern to Western Rhodopes

Short stop along the road with Erhard's Wall Lizard, before we had lunch at a former site of Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris). Only Marsh Frog and Grass Snake here. We drove to higher elevation and at about 1950m absl we found Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and eggs of Common Frog (Rana temporaria) but no Adder (Vipera berus). Afterwards, we visited the Devil's Throat cave.

the mountain site with Viviparous Lizard

some of us suffered dangerous dehydration after climbing the long Devil's Throat stairway

12 May – from Western Rhodopes to Struma river valley

We visited the shore of the Dospat lake and found Slow Worm, Common Frog, a dead Fire Salamander and Alpine Newt. After some driving, we reached the Kresna gorge and visited a known site of Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla). We did not find Leopard Snake but we did find Nose-horned Viper, Balkan Green Lizard, Grass Snake, Dahl's Whip Snake, Worm Snake, Caspian Whip Snake and Peter made Anniek happy by catching a big Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata).

Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)


Peter's persistent mad grin raised some doubt on the harmlessness of the species

investigating a large female Nose-horned Viper - Nikolay and Boyan

Nikolay and one of his beloved subjects - a male Green Lizard

13 May – Kresna gorge

We started with another (nearby) site for Leopard Snake. After climbing a hill and then going back down into the valley of a small brook, Leen, Gijs and myself found Yellow-Bellied Toad and Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca). By the time we got back out of the narrow valley of this brook, Boyan had caught a rather large and (of course) beautiful Leopard Snake! Later, we drove to the lowland streams and rocky hills of Rupite and found Nose-horned Viper, Montpellier Snake, Marsh Frog, Yellow-Bellied Toad, Caspian Whip Snake and Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata). Another Sand Boa site delivered Montpellier Snake, Balkan Wall Lizard, Balkan Green Lizard, Worm Snake and both tortoises but again no boa. We visited a thermal waters site along the Struma river, where a number of amphibian species breed throughout the year. One pool was stuffed with tadpoles of mainly Green Toad and Eastern Spadefoot and also Green Toad, Marsh Frog, Common Tree Frog and Grass Snake were seen.

small waterfall with Yellow-bellied Toad and Greek Stream Frog

Greek Stream Frog (Rana graeca)

Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla) being admired by Anniek

Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)


and another one…

one more (can't stop, sorry) ...

last one…

Coenagrion ornatum

Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)

14 May – Rila mountains and back east

Sadly enough, we had to leave Kresna already and on our way back to Burgas, we visited the Rila monastery. Afterwards, we had another try to find Adder. Again no luck, but we did find Aesculapian Snake and Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis). We drove on to the east and spent our last Bulgarian night near Sliven.

inside Rila monastery - magnificent building in an amazingly beautiful landscape

frater Robertus aka friar Tuck

Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)

Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)

Rila mountains

15 May – finale ...

Last day - on the way to Burgas airport, we stopped for some Suslik (Citellus citellus) watching. Nice extras were Isabelline Wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina) and about five Imperial Eagles (Aquila heliaca). Only herps seen on this day were Green Lizard, Common Wall Lizard, Marsh Frog and Common Toad close to our lodge near Sliven and Balkan Green Lizard near the salinas near Burgas, where we had our last lunch.

our favourite local granny - Baba Rayna

Suslik (Citellus citellus)

Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)

goodbye to the Black Sea

Interesting observation - extention of known range of Pelophylax kl. esculentus or discovery of "Pelophylax bulgharicus"?

At a few adjacent sites, we found a water frog which, in our opinion, cannot be Pelophylax ridibundus. Our attention was drawn to it by its call. These animals do not call like the "laughing" ridibundus but exhibit a rattling call like the esculentus- and lessonae-taxa. At first, we thought it was 'just' a southward extention of the known range of Pelophylax kl. esculentus. After repetitive re-listening to Robert's sound recordings, we are rather confident that it has to be closer to lessonae-like animals and, more specifically, it seems very close to the call of Pelophylax shqipericus. Our (superficial) impressions on the frogs' morphology (white vocal sacs, yellow head of several calling males, ...) seem to support this. Finally, the unidentified frogs are clearly outnumbered by the syntopic ridibundus and, in contrast to those, they prefer calling in open water. This is parallel to what has been described from syntopic Pelophylax epeiroticus and Pelophylax kurtmuelleri, the latter being close to ridibundus and probably conspecific. Though this was our 'discovery', we would like the matter to be further investigated by our Bulgarian (professional herpetologist) friends and, therefore, we will not specify the sites where we found these animals.

copula of the unidentified water frog (Pelophylax sp.)

List of the observed species

1. Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)
2. Balkan Crested Newt (Triturus karelinii)
3. Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)
4. Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris)
5. Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata)
6. Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina)
7. Eastern Spadefoot (Pelobates syriacus)
8. Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
9. Green Toad (Bufo viridis)
10. Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)
11. Agile Frog (Rana dalmatina)
12. Balkan Stream Frog (Rana graeca)
13. Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
14. Marsh Frog (Pelophylax ridibundus)
15. unidentified water frog taxon (Pelophylax sp.)
16. Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri)
17. Spur-thighed Tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera)
18. European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
19. Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
20. Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
21. Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans)
22. Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)
23. Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis)
24. Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
25. Meadow Lizard (Darevskia praticola)
26. Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)
27. Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis)
28. Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis tauricus)
29. Erhard’s Wall Lizard (Podarcis erhardii)
30. Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelii)
31. Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus)
32. Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)
33. Worm Snake (Typhlops vermicularis)
34. Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus)
35. Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum)
36. Reddish Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris)
37. Large Whip Snake (Dolichophis caspius)
38. Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)
39. Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates)
40. Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)
41. Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus)
42. Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)
43. Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata)
44. Nose-horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)

What we missed …

1. Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus)
Three major searches at known sites remained unsuccesful.
2 . Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
Maybe rather strange that we didn't find it. Possibly not enough specific searches in its habitat.
3 . Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax)
One major search at a possible site. No further searches, as the evening temperature was low. Turning over stones didn't seem to do the trick.
4. Adder (Vipera berus bosniensis)
Two mountain searches mainly directed to this species. No result, though the weather wasn't all that bad.
Further species of the Bulgarian herpetofauna were not present in the (southern) prospected area: Danube Crested Newt (Triturus dobrogicus), Common Spadefoot (Pelobates fuscus), Edible Frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) and Orsini's Viper (Vipera ursinii).

Some related links

Amphibians & Reptiles in Bulgaria and Balkan Peninsula
Save the Kresna gorge
Bulgarian National Parks
National Museum of Natural History in Sofia
Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds
Bat Research & Protection Group
Maps of Bulgaria

our group - from left to right - standing up: Stefaan, Mark, Didier, Gerd, Gijs, Robert, Johan, Patrick, Elfriede and Nikolay; sitting down: Jan, Leen, Peter, Anniek, Boyan and me.
(c) Jan Van Der Voort.

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