Herpetofauna of Europe : lycia - sw turkey (december 2018)
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Herpetofauna of Europe European Amphibians & Reptiles

Herpetological trip to Lycia (SW Turkey)
December 26th 2018 – January 1st 2019

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

I am fortunate to say that not-too-far-away winter escape destinations holding some herping novelty for me are not too numerous anymore. One, however, has clearly been standing out for years. Ever since I started studying local fire salamanders, my specific interest for tailed amphibians has grown quite a bit. A trip to Lycia, the Turkish southwest which is home to all but one species (the only one I had seen so far, Karpathos Salamander Lyciasalamandra helverseni - see trip report – Karpathos, December 2005) of the colourful and diverse Lyciasalamandra genus, was long coming. Partner-in-mandering-crime Wouter Beukema visited the area ten years ago and had been meticulously preparing a rerun ever since.


current taxonomic overview of the genus Lyciasalamandra, more or less sorted in a west to east order

No less than 21 taxa have been described at the subspecies level. While many of these may require further investigation, as they may rather result from clinal variation or phenotypic plasticity than actually represent discrete morphs, we set out to see as many of them as possible. We only had five days, so we could not expect to find all of them, leading us to focus on the (subjectively) nicer taxa. This also lead to omitting searches for other species of the local herpetofauna. Full salamander madness reigned.

As we hardly received any rain, conditions underneath the hundreds of stones we flipped became progressively drier day by day, with salamanders presumably retreating further underground and out of our reach. Nevertheless, we were able to find about 100 salamanders belonging to all six Turkish Lyciasalamandra species and to eleven subspecies.


sites of observation and hotels stayed at, visited from west to east and coloured per day

December 26th

We arrived at Dalaman airport after dark. Strong winds and temperatures dropping to or close to freezing made our first nocturnal search efforts for Lyciasalamandra flavimembris flavimembris futile. We slept in a hotel in Akyaka.

December 27th

Our first full day. In the morning, we tried our luck at the ancient ruins of Thera for the less attractive Lyciasalamandra flavimembris ilgazi at about 700 m absl. Frozen puddles were a bad omen, so we left this scenic spot.


Thera – © Wouter Beukema

Driving past the fruitless spots of the previous night, we tried our luck on the island near Adaköy, hoping that lower elevation might work out better. Not without effort, we ended up finding a single subadult of Lyciasalamandra flavimembris flavimembris underneath some trash. Also a sleeping Snake-eyed Lacertid Ophisops elegans.


island scenery – © Wouter Beukema


Lyciasalamandra flavimembris flavimembris - subadult

As our first searches were not too productive and we still had a lot of salamander desiderata, including more attractive ones, we decided to aim for the next species instead of searching for more flavimembris – time for Lyciasalamandra fazilae! After some driving up and down and some more spots without herps, a grassy slope with rocks under the pine trees was our last spot of the day. Finally some more salamanders, with 4 females and 3 youngsters of L. fazilae ulfetae. I was fortunate to find the 4 females together under a single stone. Minutes later, also a Masked Dwarf Snake Eirenis modestus.


habitat of Lyciasalamandra fazilae ulfetae and Eirenis modestus – © Wouter Beukema


Eirenis modestus


female Lyciasalamandra fazilae ulfetae


another female Lyciasalamandra fazilae ulfetae


Lyciasalamandra fazilae ulfetae


Wouter shooting fazilae

After dinner and dark, we tried to find nominal fazilae, which worked out but was limited to 3 juveniles. We spent the night in a hotel close to Dalaman airport.


juvenile Lyciasalamandra fazilae fazilae – © Wouter Beukema

December 28th

Still a lot to do, so we left it at that for fazilae. Our second full day was going to be dedicated solely to the three subspecies of Lyciasalamandra luschani. After a modest drive further east, we arrived at our first site of the day in lovely winter sunlight. This was a site already on the eastern border of the nominal subspecies luschani. Soon, we had found 9 animals, including some very attractive males.


Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani - male


Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani - same male


Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani - same male


Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani - subadult female


Lyciasalamandra luschani luschani - juvenile

Next up was the less attractive subspecies basoglui. Somehow, we did not manage to turn it up. We did however find Ophiomorus kardesi, Ophisops elegans and Anatololacerta budaki.


habitat of Lyciasalamandra luschani basoglui, Ophiomorus kardesi, Anatololacerta budaki, Testudo graeca and more – © Wouter Beukema


Ophiomorus kardesi – © Wouter Beukema


Ophiomorus kardesi


Anatololacerta budaki

We did not shed too many tears for basoglui, as we continued east with high hopes for one of the finer taxa of the genus – Lyciasalamandra luschani finikensis. While many sites have fairly dull looking animals, Wouter had discovered a site with a beautiful population during his previous trip. Flat limestone rocks had us finding twenty individuals in no time, six of which together under the same stone. Great!


approaching our next target site


habitat of Lyciasalamandra luschani finikensis – © Wouter Beukema


Lyciasalamandra luschani finikensis - male


Lyciasalamandra luschani finikensis - male

We meant to spend the night in Finike, but in the end we decided to head on to the base of the Göynük Canyon, so we would be at our next target spot straightaway the next morning. This meant we gave up on trying to find the southern, less attractive subspecies of Lyciasalamandra billae (arikani and yehudahi). We did do a silly attempt for L. arikani in the dark, before checking in to our next hotel, but the spot was not as good as we would have hoped.

December 29th

Day 3. Guided by numerous ads for Knoblauchbrot, we entered Göynük Canyon as the first tourists of the day. The dry conditions made us work for our salamanders again, but in the end we found two females and two juveniles of the attractive Lyciasalamandra billae irfani. Very nice…


Göynük Canyon and me – © Wouter Beukema


Lyciasalamandra billae irfani - female


Lyciasalamandra billae irfani - second female


Lyciasalamandra billae irfani

Our irfani search taking less time than anticipated, we dediced to drive back south into the area we had passed by the previous night for a yehudahi attempt after all. First spot wasn’t all that great, but the second was perfect, so we managed to find a young male after a while.


habitat of Lyciasalamandra billae yehudahi – © Wouter Beukema


Lyciasalamandra billae yehudahi - young male

Then it was back north towards Antalya. We dove into the famous hybrid valley. Surprisingly few salamanders here. Was this area even drier than further west or was the continuing lack of rain making it harder and harder for us? After a single hybrid billae x antalyana and some Pelophylax bedriagae, we moved to the terra typica of Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana, a relatively lush place in the shade of pine trees. We found two females and a juvenile before dark. One of the females was surprisingly colourful, rather reminiscent of the subspecies L. a. gocmeni. This absolute highlight concluded another day of hard work with very satisfying results.


habitat of Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana – © Wouter Beukema


Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana - female


Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana


Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana - female with gocmeni-like extent of yellow pigmentation


Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana


Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana

December 30th

While we only had Lyciasalamandra atifi left in terms of species and we had already been blessed with a high-yellow Lyciasalamandra antalyana antalyana, we definitely wanted to have a go at the supposedly even yellower L. a. gocmeni. With not a lot of driving on our plate, we decided to start off with having a go at Lyciasalamandra billae eikeae first. Icicles at the eikeae sites, so no salamanders near the surface, but only a brave Ablepharus (budaki) anatolicus.


Ablepharus (budaki) anatolicus – © Wouter Beukema

Next on to the L. a. gocmeni site for which we held the highest hopes. We are sure the site is home to many, but we never tried longer and harder to break our backs and pull our arm muscles. They just did not want to be found today, with the drought as likely culprit.

We had lost our faith in sites above 600 m absl, so we decided to end the day with a longer drive towards some of the few low-lying sites of Lyciasalamandra atifi that we would explore the next morning. After passing Manavgat, we could see dark clouds overhanging a limited stretch of the inland mountain range about 20 km away. We knew of a good L. atifi spot in that exact area. Would we finally be blessed with some rain? Let’s find out! We left the main road and drove towards the clouds. Would it rain on the L. atifi spot? Or would we discover that those clouds were in fact still further away from the coast? Less than 2 km before we reached the spot, precious raindrops hit the windshield. Finally we got what we had been longing for since the start of the trip! We decided to wait a little bit until dark and pressed on even further inland towards yet another L. atifi site. The rain area proved to be very small, as it stopped again after we had reached the plateau. Then darkness fell. We arrived back at the salamander spot, to see that the clouds had moved on. But such luck – the rain had been sufficient to lure the salamanders out of hiding, with 40 L. atifi found in an hour. Naturally, this was a major highlight of the trip which was forecast to be without any rain. I had accepted that we would not have any sightings of active animals, so I was over the moon with this stroke of luck.


Lyciasalamandra atifi - female coming out of hiding


Lyciasalamandra atifi - female


Lyciasalamandra atifi - female


Lyciasalamandra atifi - male (see larger amount of small dorsal spines)


Lyciasalamandra atifi - female


Lyciasalamandra atifi - male

Now what? Hanging around for more L. atifi the next day seemed not all that attractive a prospect, as flipping had proved to be hard and we kind of feel that all L. atifi subspecies look pretty much the same. That L. a. gocmeni was still on our mind, though. So back to Antalya it was.

December 31st

Three general areas were still of interest to our L. a. gocmeni hunger. One of them looked not much, so we decided to hit the other two. Anatololacerta budaki and a subadult toad which may very well be Bufo (bufo) verrucosissimus were the only finds of the first area. Again very dry below most of the stones.


Bufo (bufo) verrucosissimus or Bufo bufo


Anatololacerta budaki – © Wouter Beukema

Then a long way north to the next area. This did not offer much result either. However, after many hours and countless stones, we were able to find at least some evidence of the subspecies, in the shape of a single juvenile.


here we finally found L. a. gocmeni – © Wouter Beukema


juvenile Lyciasalamandra antalyana gocmeni

We decided to end our trip with a short night hike on a Lyciasalamandra billae billae spot. Silly to expect to find active salamanders again, without any rain and chilly conditions, but we were lucky once more, as our target site turned out to have great limestone walls and seven salamanders peeping out.


Lyciasalamandra billae billae - male


Lyciasalamandra billae billae - large female


Lyciasalamandra billae billae - smaller female

Back to the hotel to crash in every sense of the word. Who needs to celebrate the new year after such a salamander feast?

January 1st

Believe it or not, somewhere in the night rain started and when we got up for our morning flight, Antalya was soaking wet. One day longer and we would have had ourselves a gocmeni dance. Other than that, it has been a most wonderful experience and we will be back.

Epilogue

The array of colours these salamanders display across such a small part of the world makes this one of the best salamander areas. Two crazy guys turning over every suitable stone turned out to be worthy opponents for cold nights and generally dry conditions.

Species list




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Last update: February 13, 2019 14:54:49