Herpetofauna of Europe : s morocco (april 2018)
Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herping and family trip to southern Morocco
April 3rd – 14th 2018

Unless specified otherwise, all pictures (c) of Jeroen Speybroeck and Stefanie Delarue.

I have to be honest. I never fully understood people’s enthusiasm about herping the deserts of northern Africa and the Middle East. The scenery seems beat by the Sonoran Desert and the species are cool but overall less colourful. Not to mention the lack of rattlers, corals, kings and gilas. So, I wasn’t all too wild about Bert’s idea to hit Morocco this spring. Adding to that feeling was my impression that the place seems to attract a bit too many herpers nowadays (although nothing like southern Arizona, of course) and that the first half of April (which we had to pick to accommodate our families) is not the best timing. I think there hasn’t been a trip for which I prepared less than for this one. I did know, however, that lack of interest would change once I would be there.

Last year, Bert’s family and my own had a pleasant trip to southern Greece. We talked about southern Spain, Bulgaria and Sicily, but settled for a slightly more exotic destination. To our joy, long-time herper buddies Jan, Peter and Anniek were able to come along. In total, we were eight adults and five kids. The fact that this was a family trip did produce limitations, but other factors were more restrictive to our success. The trip held two main episodes. First, five nights in the foothills of the lower parts of the High Atlas, close to Agadir. Our accommodation was outstanding, cheap and very scenic, but the (extremely!) bumpy gravel roads surrounding it and the weird low abundance of herps were disappointing. The second part had us based at Guelmim, with immediate access to the desert. We surely should have spent more days here, but temperatures were still fairly low and strong winds dominated nearly all days and nights. This last factor would prove to be crucial, as our friend Frank Deschandol stayed on after we had left and immediately got much better results.

Overall, this was one of the least productive trips I ever made, finding very little in a country with so much species and working so hard to find stuff. With about 26 species, the found diversity was only a bit lower than the 29 species of the mentioned Greek trip of last year's spring, but taking into account the list of potential species, we only hit 50% versus a pleasant 85%. Our team was pretty small, but the numbers of stones flipped and kilometres driven both have to run into the thousands. But, as it was my first time in Morocco, there were still some highlights. My love for Arizona, California and Texas is still strong, but I surely hope to get back to Morocco soon.

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Part 1 - Hills near Agadir

An adventurous drive which miraculously only shredded a single car tire brought us to a spacious castle-like gite with a pool, nice rocky slopes with shrubs and a oued with water running through it. Picture-perfect herper’s paradise, you’d say. But no. Too cold? Too early? No idea, but the species number and abundance were fairly low. Great from a perspective of authentic tourism, less so for herp enthusiasts. Where were the lacertid lizards? A single Hemorrhois, really?

held this for Bufo spinosus at first, but Sclerophrys mauritanica can be this uniformly coloured

outstanding place to stay, hidden away from the world

our first snake, this Hemorrhois hippocrepis, turned up very quickly, but during the first part of the trip, only five more snakes were seen

common and widespread but a nice species - Sclerophrys mauritanica

always great to find chameleons - Chamaeleo chamaeleon

Chamaeleo chamaeleon

Natrix maura - only two juveniles seen…

Pelophylax saharicus

Mauremys leprosa

Psammophis schokari

luckily, also a daytime chameleon find for the kids

Saurodactylus brosseti

Agama impalearis

breakfast boy

Quedenfeldtia moerens

Quedenfeldtia moerens

Part 2 - Desert

The famous cisterns were not as crowded as later in the year. Most of them still filled up with water too. We tried every thinkable way to find a Cerastes but often fled back into the car shivering from the crazy wind. Only one more or less good day when we did a 240 km loop south from Guelmim. Two snakes were already enough to make us happy, plus some Uromastyx. Nobody seems to get me for it, but Barbarophryne brongersmai was a true highlight for me. Superficially like a Bufotes, but in the flesh much more an emerald beauty in a land of all-brown herps and with distinctive ecology and behaviour. Very, very nice, by my amphibian lover’s book. Fewer weird looks when I voice my happiness about our single useful night road cruising. By “useful”, I mean: without blistering cold wind and with some resulting herps. Moderate wind only, a drizzle and 16°C still made for rather chilly and unpleasant conditions to the human skin, but for some reason two lovely herp species don’t seem to mind too much – Tarentola chazaliae and none less than Bitis arietans. While a DOR subadult of the latter had me cursing at first because we head out too late after another of those endless dinners, 25 km further down the road had us jumping up and down at the sight of a fat adult stretched across the road. On the way back, a small baby sealed one of the very few (yet great) adrenalin moments of the trip.

brave baby Tarentola boehmei active during c-c-c-cold and w-w-windy first night

some notoriously speedy lizards were surprisingly out and approachable in the strong wind: Acanthodactylus busacki - male

only bad hair days with that crazy wind

Bufotes boulengeri

one the few cisterns that wasn’t filled up with water – this one had Bufotes boulengeri and Hemorrhois hippocrepis - not exactly the most exciting finds for European herpers

a small round pond inside an otherwise dry creek bed near the coast produced a personal highlight - Barbarophryne brongersmai

Barbarophryne brongersmai

Barbarophryne brongersmai

Tropiocolotes algericus

lovely spot near our stay, but not much more than frogs, toads and the odd terrapin and gecko to be found

Acanthodactylus boskianus - (c) Jan Van Der Voort

cuter counterpart of US chuckwalla - Uromastyx nigriventris

Uromastyx nigriventris - the big ones were hardly out, so no photo

pretty Hemorrhois hippocrepis that Frank got out of cistern

one of the more appealing gecko species - Tarentola chazaliae

Acanthodactylus busacki - female

not a single reptile at Fort Bou Jerif, but never giving up

Psammophis schokari with full belly

habitat of Psammophis schokari, Uromastyx nigriventris, Ptyodactylus oudrii, Pelophylax saharicus, Tropiocolotes algericus and Tarentola boehmei

Ptyodactylus oudrii - no better shot because of (yes again) the wind

apart from an ancient Agama carcass, still empty in April

one of those additions to the trip’s list which is a bit all too familiar from Europe - Chalcides ocellatus

young and speedy Mesalina guttulata - (c) Jan Van Der Voort

Acanthodactylus boskianus - (c) Jan Van Der Voort

Hemorrhois algirus

Hemorrhois algirus

finally another snake…!

the above snake was drowning inside the depicted cistern

and then finally something to forget about all our hard work and misery – a chunky Bitis arietans

Bitis arietans

Bitis arietans

Bitis arietans

Bitis arietans

Bitis baby

habitat of Acanthodactylus aureus

Acanthodactylus aureus - (c) Jan Van Der Voort

time for a daytime Bitis photoshoot

happy, happy!!! - (c) Bert Vandebosch

Bitis arietans

Bitis arietans

Bitis arietans

spotted in a rodent hole during Bitis photoshoot – Chalcides polylepis

On the way back to Agadir

Acanthodactylus margaritae - (c) Jan Van Der Voort

The crew

all of us - (c) Frank Deschandol

Species list

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Last update: May 18, 2018 09:11:42