Zákynthos 09

Zakynthos (Zante) 4th-18th June

This was not a reptile trip but a holiday with my girlfriend 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 name Common name 05/05 06/09
Bufo viridis Green toad 5 dor 10+
Hyla arborea Common tree frog 2 10+
Rana kurtmuerlleri Greek marsh frog 20+ 20+
Testudo hermanni Hermanns tortoise 6
Emys orbicularis European pond terrapin 20+ 30+
Mauremys rivulata Balkan terrapin 10+ 30+
Caretta caretta Loggerhead sea turtle 2
Ablepharus kitaibelli Snake-eyed skink 1 2
Podarcis taurica Balkan wall lizard common common
Lacerta trilineata Balkan green lizard 7 5
Algyroides moreoticus Greek algyroides 17 23
Tarentola mauritanica Moorish gecko common common
Hemidactylus turcicus Turkish gecko 3
Anguis cephallonica Peloponnese slow worm 2 dead
Hierophis gemonensis Balkan whip snake 3 (+5 dor) 3 (+6 dor)
Malpolon insignitus Montpellier snake 2 (+4 dor) 3 (+8 dor)
Natrix natrix persa Grass snake 7
Zamenis situla Leopard snake 2 dead
Elaphe quatuorlineata Four-lined snake 2 (+12 dor 1 (+2 dor)

*dor= animals found dead on road

Prospected areas:

1

Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) found at the hotel

2

Kalamaki nesting beach with a protected nest

3

The nest itself

4

The Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

5

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

6

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

7

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

8

Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)

9

Male Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)

10

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.

11

Portrait of Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)

12

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

13

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

14

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

15

Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) closeup

16

Male Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

17

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

18

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

19

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

21

A Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) coming up for air

22

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

23

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

20

The caves at Keri, great for swimming

24

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.

25

Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)

26

Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

27

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.

28

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

29

A young Greek Marsh Frog (Rana kurtmuerlleri)

30

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

31

Four-Lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)

32

Female Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)

33

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), beautiful but aggressive

34

Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)

35

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

36

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

37

Terrapin habitat at Lake Keri

38

European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

39

Closeup of the less attractive Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

40

A group of both species basking together on a river bank

41

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

42

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

43

Balkan Whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

44

Olive grove habitat

45

European Pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis)

Species found:

  • Common Tree Frog (Hyla arborea)
  • Green Toad (Bufo viridis)
  • Greek Marsh Frog (Rana kurtmuerlleri)
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
  • European Pond Terrapin (Emys orbicularis)
  • Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)
  • Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
  • Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
  • Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
  • Balkan Wall Lizard (Podarcis taurica)
  • Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata)
  • Greek Algyroides (Algyroides moreoticus)
  • Snake-Eyed Skink (Ablepharus kitaibelli)
  • Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis)
  • Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus)
  • Four-lined Snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata)

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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21 comments on “Zákynthos 09

  1. Cheers Vlad,
    I will post the report on the EFHC soon as well but added it here to increase the content of my blog!
    Matt

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  2. Matt,

    Was on Amorgos recently (late May). Went to get water from a cistern alongside the walking track and disturbed a snake which initially scared the crap out of me. Recovered to get a quick photo as it retreated and with the help of your blog looks like a 4-lined Snake. I showed the photo to a few locals who all assured me that it was a ‘good’ snake.

    On another visit to Greece (early May, 2007) was wandering around Acro Corinth (Peloponnese) and saw about 10 black snakes, up to 2m in length. Locals told me that these were also ‘good’ snakes as they caught mice in houses. Apparently some Germans have collecting and export/import licences to collect these snakes and sell them in Germany for pets. What species are they?

    I’m a minerals exploration geologist in Australia and spend a fair bit of time in the bush but seem to see more snakes on my trips to Greece than I do here.

    Your blog makes interesting reading for me.

    Kindest regards and best wishes,

    Neil Mockett

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  3. Hi Neil,
    Thanks for the message.
    Your snake from Amorgos will most likely be a four-lined snake. no need to worry it is a harmless rat snake that rarely bites even when captured.

    If the snakes you saw were genuinely 2 metres long from the Peloponese it would have been the Montpellier snake, they are in fact a very dark green rather than black, there is no black snake in the Peloponese of this size, although when they are moving at speed they can appear very dark.

    Hope this is useful and thanks for your interest!

    Matt

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  4. Hi Matt, excellent photos and comment! Please, be so good as to send me photos you probably took from the Malpolon couple and others dead on road. Another Q.: Do you know herpists familiar with island Samothraki? I think Malpolon is absent there. Its presence on Thasos is certain. In most herpguides Samothraki as a Malpolon location has been confused with Thasos due to an unconspicuous transcription error by Wettstein,1953. (Cf.: Bures & Zonkov,1934+De Haan,1999, in W.Böhme, Handbuch R&A.Europas,Vol. Serpentes II: 682-689).

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  5. Hi Cornelius,
    No problem I can send you the Malpolon photographs. I did not on this occasion photograph the roadkill snakes, but I have many photographs of Malpolons from Greek islands such as Kefalonia, Zakynthos and of course from Corfu.

    I agree that Montpellier snakes are absent from Samothraki, I will try to think of some contacts who could help you confirm this. On Thassos Malpolon is the most common snake, a friend of mine saw many dozens killed on roads during a holiday.

    Matt

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  6. I recently visited Zakynthos Island with my girlfriend. We had the great luck to see one Caretta caretta (~1 m long) in close range (1-2 m from us) in chest-deep water, at Alykes beach. I was actually snorkeling around and turned my head left just to see a big dark “thing” on the bottom. Luckily I managed to realise quicly it was a nice Caretta, resting or feeding on the bottom! I followed it around then rushed to the shore and called my gf, and we were able to see it again for a few minutes before it disappeared to the deep. I must admit it was one encounter that I’ll always remember 🙂

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  7. Wow I’m quite surprised you saw a turtle so close at Alykes, as I assumed they are mostly seen in the southern bay were I found them. I did spend most evenings looking out to see trying to spot one, but the only way I saw them in the end was from a boat.
    Matt

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  8. Dear Matt
    Thank you for your very interesting blog. I have been visiting Zakynthos for many years, as I still have family on the island; Yianni is a great source of information (and entertainment!). I have some photos, though not of the best quality to reproduce, of lizards in the gowls of ceiling lights, awaiting their banquet of insects, when the lights are turned on. Fascinating to watch…
    Kind regards – Julia

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  9. Hi Julia,
    Thanks for the message.
    Yianni has always been very welcoming and helpful during my stays on Zakynthos. The lizards you mention are likely to be one of the two kinds of gecko (Moorish or pink coloured Turkish gecko) you can find on the island. They usually live around balcony lights where they catch insects. Each apartment or hotel I have stayed in are covered with them as soon as night falls.
    Thanks for your interest,
    Matt

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  10. hi
    i just got back from zante, i seen lots of snakes whilst i was driving in the mountain areas, i did not no what type they where, so i found reading your artical very intersting
    regards lyn

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  11. I recently got back from Zakinthos having seen two snakes on the trip. The first was in the complex at Porto Roma and i think it was a 4 lined snake c 24 inches long The other was a fast moving bright green snake at least 4 feet long which slithered over the road rather quickly. Fortunately we were in a car and not walking near it! Are either poisonous?

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  12. Four-lined snakes are not venomous, the fast moving green snake would surely have been a Montpellier snake. These are mildy venomous but not dangerous to humans. As you saw however these snakes disappear at lightning speed when they are confronted by people or cars so there is no need to worry about being bitten.
    Matt

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  13. just returned from two weeks in Alykes and in road walking a total of 100 miles plus observed 15 dead rats,14 dead snakes and 2 dead small speckled owls. Is this number of road kills usual ?

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    • Hi Barry,
      For June, I would say that number of road kills is normal, I remember once during 2 weeks in Kefalonia I saw over 50 road killed snakes. The end of May until mid- June is the peak time when male snakes are travelling trying to find a mate and inevitably end up crossing roads.
      Matt

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  14. Hello, Matt! This is really an impressive report. I have one practical question about snakes at Zakynthos: are there any poisonous there? If yes, which ones? I perused your list, it seems that there are not any harmful for humans among the onese you mentioned or were looking for. Thanks ahead for your reply.

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  15. Hi Matt, thankyou very much for such an informative and well written guide! Great shots too 🙂
    I am going to Kalamaki in June, with the wife, in-laws, and our two year old daughter. Really looking forward to it now, and must try to plan trips to some of the surrounding habitats, without making it too transparent, as to the real purpose of the excursions to my wife. ie find places that I can take the family, which would suit them, but would allow plenty of opportunity for reptile, and also perhaps some bird photography (the feathered kind of course 😉
    Any advice you could lay on me with these regards would be further much appreciated.

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  16. Hi Polina/Chris,
    There are no dangerous snakes in Zakynthos, although Montpellier snakes (Malpolon insignitus) have venom, they are not at all dangerous.
    Chris, Kalamaki is quite a nice place to stay, much more preferable than nearby Laganas which has no nice habitat whatsoever. I’m sure if you explore the agricultural fields around Kalamaki you will be able to find some reptiles. Also, Common tree frogs (Hyla arborea) and Green toads (Bufo viridis) breed in quite large numbers around there, you can probably find both of them around hotel gardens at night as I did.
    Cheers,
    Matt

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  17. Fantastic. I live on Zakynthos and really enjoyed reading this. I was just wondering about the snake the locals call ‘ohia’. I know it is a member of the viper ‘adder’ family but have never really been able to pin point exactly what type of adder. If you have any ideas i would love to know. I also believe we have seen what may have been a european cat snake {telescopus fallax) in our hay bales but my husband refused to move the bales to let me have a closer look..lol…but it is the closest i can find in colour and pattern.
    Cheryl.

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