Volcanic colonisers

Thira, the main town on Volcanic Santorini (C) Matt Wilson

A few weeks ago I went on holiday to the Greek island of Santorini (Thira), only the second time I have visited the Cyclades islands after my field trip to Milos and Kimolos last year. Santorini is a small island although was once much larger before the volcanic eruption that submerged half of it under the ocean, leaving a huge moat-like crater in the middle of the island. When this volcano erupted thousands of years ago (the second largest in human history) it is believed most of the native species of wildlife were wiped out from Santorini. However, at some point in time a few species managed to recolonise the island and it’s smaller neighbouring islands that are now isolated rocks protruding from the sea. As I previously mentioned this was not a field trip but more of a relaxing holiday with my friend so I spent virtually no time looking for reptiles. The constant strong wind didn’t make it easy for finding the few species that occur there, not to mention the hot, dry summer conditions. The only reptiles recorded from the island are two geckos: Hemidactylus turcicus and Mediodactylus kotschyi, typically the best reptilian colonisers, the Erhard’s wall lizard (Podarcis erhardii) and two snakes: Zamenis situla and Telescopus fallax (ssp pallidus). No amphibians are found on Santorini or the neighbouring islands. Wandering around at night with a torch close to my hotel, on the one evening without strong winds I found many specimens of both gecko species, mostly on drystone walls and around a small rubbish dump. In addition I found 3 freshly cast skins of cat snakes on a drystone wall. Despite returning there several times after dark I could not locate the snakes owing to the previously mentioned strong winds which nearly blew me off the hillside on occasions, certainly too much for these small nocturnal snakes. The only diurnal species I observed was the previously mentioned Podarcis erhardii, although not in large numbers owing to the summer drought, and far more juveniles were seen than adults.

Mediodactylus kotschyi on Santorini (C) Matt Wilson

For the second part of my trip I took a boat to the neighbouring island of Ios. This tiny island was packed with Australian travellers and by getting caught up in the summer party scene I regret to say I didn’t spend any time looking for reptiles. One evening I did come across some Mediodactylus kotschyi which I caught and photographed as they are surely an endemic subspecies on this island. Perhaps I will give these islands some further attention in the spring, Ios in particular is home to dwarf forms of Vipera ammodytes, Eryx jaculus and Elaphe quatuorlineata which would be especially interesting to see.

By Matt Wilson

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