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Zákynthos 09

Zakynthos (Zante) 4th-18th June

This was not a reptile trip but a holiday to the island of Zakynthos, which since 2001 has been a National Marine Park. However, I did for a couple of hours most evenings to wander off in search of animals. The weather was very hot for early june, for the first seven days temperatures reached 37C so most of the days were spent at the beach and very few reptiles could be observed, not even common species would venture out much.

Zakynthos is best known for its important nesting beaches for the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta), and thanks to my conservationist friend Yannis Vardakastanis, I was able to observe this species in the wild for the first time. We stayed for the majority of the holiday at Kalamaki, which had a nice nesting beach but little else to keep me occupied. In addition, we spent three nights at an eco village apartment in the beautiful Gerakas countryside, and it was here I found the majority of the reptiles on this trip. As the weather never changed throughout the stay I usually conducted searches after 5pm. Although close to the Peloponese, Zakynthos does not have such a diverse herpetofauna and during my last visit I was able to find all but three species. For some help on this trip I thank Gail Schofield, and especially Yannis Vardakastanis.

The first few days at Kalamaki were very hot indeed, and not many species could be observed. The first herps were a few Balkan Wall Lizards (Podarcis taurica), and Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica). On my first evening walk I was sad to find x2 adult Four-Lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) that had been run over on the outskirts of the resort, one of which measured 1.6m, furthermore a couple of Montpellier snakes (Malpolon monspessulanus) and a Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis) were found as roadkills. That evening quite a few sub adult Green Toads (Bufo viridis) and Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) could be found around our hotel as well as Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) which is not common on Zakynthos.

All photographs (C) Matt Wilson

Table 1: My findings from a previous visit in May 2005 and findings from the featured trip in June 2009

Latin nameCommon name05/0506/09
Bufo viridisGreen toad5 dor10+
Hyla arboreaCommon tree frog210+
Rana kurtmuerlleriGreek marsh frog20+20+
Testudo hermanniHermanns tortoise6
Emys orbicularisEuropean pond terrapin20+30+
Mauremys rivulataBalkan terrapin10+30+
Caretta carettaLoggerhead sea turtle2
Ablepharus kitaibelliSnake-eyed skink12
Podarcis tauricaBalkan wall lizardcommoncommon
Lacerta trilineataBalkan green lizard75
Algyroides moreoticusGreek algyroides1723
Tarentola mauritanicaMoorish geckocommoncommon
Hemidactylus turcicusTurkish gecko3
Anguis cephallonicaPeloponnese slow worm2 dead
Hierophis gemonensisBalkan whip snake3 (+5 dor)3 (+6 dor)
Malpolon insignitusMontpellier snake2 (+4 dor)3 (+8 dor)
Natrix natrix persaGrass snake7
Zamenis situlaLeopard snake2 dead
Elaphe quatuorlineataFour-lined snake2 (+12 dor1 (+2 dor)

*dor= animals found dead on road

Prospected areas:

Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) found at the hotel

Kalamaki nesting beach with a protected nest

The nest itself

The Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

A young Tree Frog (Hyla arborea) found climbing a small wall in the resort centre

One of several sub adult Green Toads (Bufo viridis) that were found every night around our hotel

Vrondonero nesting beach, with a small stream just behind with thousands of baby Green Toads

Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)

Male Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)

Toadlets and tadpoles of Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

After changing our accomodation to Gerakas for three nights we enjoyed the islands best beach during the day and the next morning I got up early to search some nice looking habitats. First was some overgrown olive groves close to the coast which was being fed by a small well, and this area to me looked suitable for Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), which is quite rare on this particular island. However the first species I saw was a Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) which dashed up an embankment and stopped briefly to look at me, knowing I couldn’t reach it and the vanished very quickly into a hole of an olive tree. Minutes later I found my target species, a big tortoise, after photos I continued through the olive grove and saw another Montpellier snake retreating into the vegetation, I dived for it and managed to get my finger tips onto its tail. I then measured and photographed the fiesty male specimen of 85cm. That evening after a day at the beach I found some Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus), a secretive species indemic to the Pelponnese as well as Kefalonia and Zakynthos. After finding some more tortoises I wandered down a dirt track where I caught a big Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis) as it fled into the dense vegetation. The next day we boarded Yanni’s boat for a day trip to the Keri ‘blue’ caves, a great spot for swimming and turtle watching. After a swim we searched the Laganas bay and found two female Loggerhead Turtles swimming on the surface. For me it was a great ambition realised to see this endangered reptile in the wild, and it was far favorable to do it in the company of experts rather than paying money in the tourist centres to go on a crowded boat that surrounds the turtles.

Portrait of Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)

Female Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus) only found in shaded areas

A more sun loving lacertid: Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)

Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) found usually in grassy fields close to fresh water

Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) closeup

Male Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

Despite being one of my favorite reptiles, Montpellier snakes always want to bite me…

Another Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) found feeding on some grass

A Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) coming up for air

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

The caves at Keri, great for swimming

Closeup of male Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus) with bright breeding colours on the flanks. Unlike most lacertids in Greece, the mating period of this species lasts until July.

Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)

Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis) closeup

That evening I went for a walk and as well as the usual lizards and some hermanns tortoises I caught a sub-adult Four-Lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata) that was climbing an olive tree. This poor snake had some very nasty wounds on the neck and body that appeared to be the work  of a mechnical grass cutting device. The following day we visited a different beach that had a small river and where I found many Marsh Frogs (Rana kurtmuelleri), and on a short walk back at Gerakas that evening I caught a big male Montpellier snake as it was sunning itself on the edge of an olive grove. Minutes later I observed the only living Snake-Eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitabelli) of the trip, but it vanished into leaf litter before I could catch it, another balkan whip snake disappeared at lightning speed a little further down the track.

Overgrown olive groves, a habitat for Testudo hermanni, Algyroides moreoticus, Podarcis taurica, Tarentola mauritanica, Malpolon monspessulanus and Elaphe quatuorlineata

A young Greek Marsh Frog (Rana kurtmuerlleri)

Closeup of injuries of Four-Lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)

Four-Lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)

Female Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), beautiful but aggressive

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) caught in an olive grove

Another day I visited the Lake Keri region, which holds the islands only population of European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) which has now over populated this single locality. The Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) is also found here. At this site and an additional hillside area close to Kalamaki I observe the few specimens of Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) which for whatever reason is very scarce on Kefalonia and Zakynthos, unlike Corfu where they are found everywhere on this island it is only seen far away from cultivated regions in more natural habitats. Another Balkan Whip snake was seen at the side of a rough mountain track in the same area as the green lizards

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis) caught for a closeup photo

Terrapin habitat at Lake Keri

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

Closeup of the less attractive Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

A group of both species basking together on a river bank

One of only four Balkan Green Lizards (Lacerta trilineata) seen on the trip, why there are so scarce on this island is a mystery…

The only type of habitat you are likely to see a Balkan Green Lizard on Zakynthos

Balkan Whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

Olive grove habitat

European Pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

Species found:

What I missed: Peloponnese Slow Worm (Anguis cephallonica), Grass Snake (Natrix natrix), Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla), Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax).

Old records of Glass Lizard (Pseudopus apodus) and Kotschyi’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi) may well be errors as neither were found during the NMPZ (National Marine Park of Zakynthos) herpetofauna survey over a three month period.

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