Crete 09

CRETE- 9th-16th April

A rather early trip to Crete, by far the largest of the Greek islands, but due to prolonged isolation, despite its size and variety of habitats only 14 species of reptiles and amphibians are known to occur naturally. However, amongst these are some endemic species and subspecies such as Cretan Frog (Rana cretensis), Cretan Wall Lizard (Podarcis cretensis), and subspecies such as Hyla arborea kretensis, Lacerta trilineata polylepidota and Telescopus fallax pallidus. Together with fellow Brit herper Kevin Byrnes and his girlfriend Suzanne, we traveled the majority of the island by car in search of good habitats. Yet again it was a great experience to herp alongside such like minded people who were as eager as myself to find some good spots and animals.

Despite variable weather, low temperatures, strong winds, regular cloudy weather, and even hail storms we could find 11 of the 14 species native to Crete as well as an introduced amphibian: the American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeianus) at one locality. However the last two days of the trip, with the sun shining and the wind gone we could find high numbers of reptile species. We were especially pleased to find some great habitat in the eastern part of the island where we could find two Leopard snakes (Zamenis situla). I must thank the following people for their help on this trip: Lars Bergendorf, Thomas Bader, David Buttle, Colin & Sue Turvey, Jelger Herder, and John Mclaren. I have purposely not included much detail on some locations for those who would rather take animals home to sell than to see them in the wild.

All photographs (C) Matt Wilson

Table 1: Our findings on Crete, 11th-18th April 2009

Latin name Common name 04/09
Bufo viridis Green toad 20
Hyla arborea kretensis Common tree frog 7
Rana cretensis Cretan water frog 10
Rana catesbeianus American bull frog 30+
Mauremys rivulata Balkan terrapin common
Tarentola mauritanica Moorish gecko 2
Chalcides occellatus Ocellated skink 15
Lacerta trilineata Balkan green lizard Common
Podarcis cretensis Cretan wall lizard 10
Hierophis gemonensis Balkan whip snake 4
Natrix tessellata Dice snake 4 (+ 1 dead)
Zamenis situla Leopard snake 2

Day 1

After a night flight, Kevin and Suzanne picked me up from Irakleon airport and we drove to our base at Hersonissos on the northern coast. Here we found some Moorish Geckos (Tarentola mauritanica), and Kevin showed me a nice female Balkan Green Lizard (Lacerta trilineata) he had caught before my arrival. We woke up the next day to bad weather, very windy and raining. First stop was a place Kevin had previously visited, the resort of Elounda and here we found quite a lot of Ocellated Skinks (Chalcides occellatus) beneath stones. It started raining harder so we moved on, this time to the Lassithi plateau to a large irrigation lake, on the way we saw some Griffon Vultures circling above us. After walking in darkness through an irrigation pipe which led into a small concreted area with some fresh water we soon found under rocks two European Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea kretensis) and an amplexus pair of Green Toads (Bufo viridis). We found many water points around this area which were filled with tadpoles of Green Toads, but no signs of Tree Frog larvae. Turning over rocks around the lake we found another half a dozen Green Toads. That night, after a hail storm we drove along country roads looking for amphibians around the north coast, in total we found six more Green Toads, and another Tree- Frog. We heard others calling, but could not locate them with the torch. Back at the apartments yet more Green Toads hopping around the swimming pool area.

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Amplexus of Green Toads (Bufo viridis)

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Eggs of Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

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Tadpoles of Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

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Occellated Skink (Chalcides occellatus)

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Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata)

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Breeding pond of Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

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Snow on the Lassithi plateau

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Common tree frog (Hyla arborea) found on the road at night after a rainy day

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Green Toad (Bufo viridis) found on the road at night

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Moorish gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

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Griffon Vulture circling above

Day 2

With better weather, and temperatures of 20C we were more hopeful of finding some reptiles. At a wetland area not too far from our accommodation we found the first Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata), another ten Ocellated Skinks, a couple of Green Lizards and under a plastic sheet Kevin found a Balkan Whip Snake (Hierophis gemonensis). Later in the day we moved on to the picturesque fishing town of Sissi, after putting to death an injured Green Lizard en route we were surprised to see swimming in the sea a Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata), we later learned it is quite common on Crete to see this snake hunting food in the rock pools in the sea. After this we drove to a known site for Cretan Water Frog (Rana cretensis), wading through the river we could hear some animals calling, but we were unable to locate them. Stopping off on some waste ground on the drive back home we caught another Balkan Green Lizard, this time a male. Once again ‘our’ toads were hopping around the apartments when we got back that night.

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Balkan Green lizard (Lacerta trilineata)

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Ocellated skink (Chalcides occellatus)

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Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

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Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

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Dice snake (Natrix tessellata) swimming in the sea

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Kevin Byrnes searching for Dice snakes

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Scenery on the eastern coast of Crete

Day 3

We dedicated this day to driving to the western part of Crete to reach the known range of the Cretan Wall Lizard (Podarcis cretensis) and Cretan Water Frog (Rana cretensis). Our first stop was Kournas Lake, after about an hour of only seeing Green Lizards in windy weather I caught our first Cretan Frog in a roadside ditch. Shortly afterwards when the weather improved we found more specimens, as well as some Cretan Wall Lizards (Podarcis cretensis) and quite a number of Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata). Paddling through the shallows of the main lake Kevin caught a bigger frog, another Dice Snake swam past us but we couldn’t catch it, then after seeing a snake like shape in the reeds a grabbed by accident a fresh water eel! In the afternoon we moved onto Agia Lake, upon our arrival we could hear many calls of the American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeianus) which has been introduced to this area. We found many of these big frogs all over the lake, as well as more terrapins, and green lizards. We heard quite a lot of tree frogs calling during the day and I was able to spot one sitting in a rose bush.

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Kourna Lake

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Juvenile Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata)

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Group of Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

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Cretan Water frog (Rana cretensis)

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Cretan water frog (Rana cretensis)

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Cretan water frog (Rana cretensis)

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Cretan Wall lizard (Podarcis cretensis)

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Pair of Cretan wall lizards (Podarcis cretensis)

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Cretan wall lizard (Podarcis cretensis)

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Agia Lake

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Common tree frog (Hyla arborea)

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American Bull frog (Rana catesbeianus)

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American Bull frog (Rana catesbeianus)

Day 4

Not a very successful day, we first stopped at an artificial lake in the southern part of the island, but nothing here except Green Toad tadpoles and a few terrapins, but in a roadside ditch in a nearby village we found two adult Cretan Frogs. We then re- visited some sites on the coast with more green lizards, skinks and terrapins.

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Chapel in Green lizard habitat

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Cretan water frog (Rana cretensis)

Day 5

A big improvement in the weather on this day, with the sun out and little wind, and we found some great inland habitat with fresh water, olive groves and other cultivated land. Almost straight away whilst walking through a terraced field a saw a Balkan Whip Snake, two wall terraces above me disappear into the wall. Then Kevin and Suzanne text me to ask for assistance with a snake, upon my arrival they had caught a big Dice Snake (Natrix tesselata) of 120cm behind a small lake, it had initially disappeared into a wood pile but they were able to re-locate the snake which soon started playing dead. Walking through the cultivated land I found another Balkan Whip snake, and some more Green lizards. Stopping at another water point in the mountains Kevin caught another whip snake, also for the first time on the island I heard the calling of Green Toads.

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Drystone wall habitat

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Big Dice snake (Natrix tessellata) of 120cm

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Dice snake (Natrix tessellata) feigning death

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Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

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Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis)

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Flooded valley

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The largest Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis) of 120cm

Day 6

After losing a wheel hub from the car the day started with retracing our steps from the day before. Whilst Suzanne was searching on foot for the hub, me and Kevin turned some stones in the same areas as we had caught snakes the day before. After finding a Green Toad and a Skink under a stone, under the stone next to this was an adult Leopard snake (Zamenis situla)! After this success we drove again to the Lassithi plateau, no luck here so we returned to the Leopard snake site where I went off on my own and Kevin and Suzanne went together. I found some more toads under stones, a few green lizards and a dead Dice Snake. Upon returning to the car Suzanne’s smile told me they had been more successful. In fact Suzanne had caught her first snake, another Leopard snake under a stone! But this was a far more vivid beautiful specimen, without doubt a fantastic climax to our trip.

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Green Toad (Bufo viridis)

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First Leopard snake (Zamenis situla)

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Second Leopard snake (Zamenis situla)

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Leopard snake (Zamenis situla)

Day 7

With Kevin and Suzanne leaving in the morning to go back to England I had a day to myself before I flew home in the early hours of the next morning. I visited John Mclaren’s excellent aquarium in Hersonissos to see his wonderful collections which included a young Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) which had been found on a nearby beach a few weeks previously. Furthermore I had a chance to see for the first time a Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) which moved to the aquarium after it was unable to return to the wild after a nasty encounter with some kids when it was swept onto a beach in mainland Greece. I was also very grateful to John for allowing me to see the one snake we have missed from our trip: the Cretan Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax pallidus), which was brought to him by locals after being attacked by cats. Also John showed me a baby Dice snake which had been brought in by another local the previous day. Please visit their website at www.aquaworld-crete.com. I was sad to learn that still people come to Crete to collect Leopard snakes to take them back to their respective countries and sell them, after hearing some of John’s stories about encounters with such individuals. But I am happy to know that such people, who are not real Herpetologists will never take the wonderful Leopard snakes we found.

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Cat snake (Telescopus fallax pallidus)

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Cat snake (Telescopus fallax pallidus)

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Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)

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Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Species found:

Common Tree Frog- Hyla arborea kretensis
Green Toad- Bufo viridis
Cretan Water Frog- Rana cretensis
American Bullfrog- Rana catesbeianus
Balkan Terrapin- Mauremys rivulata
Moorish Gecko- Tarentola mauritanica
Ocellated Skink- Chalcides occellatus
Balkan Green Lizard- Lacerta trilineata ssp
Cretan Wall Lizard- Podarcis cretensis
Balkan Whip Snake- Hierophis gemonensis
Dice Snake- Natrix tesselata
Leopard Snake- Zamenis situla

What we missed:  Kotschy’s Gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and Cretan Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax pallidus).

Furthermore some other introduced species on Crete that occasionally turn up are Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) and Red Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta). The Mediterranean Chameleon (Chameleo chameleon) is now regarded as extinct on Crete.

9 comments on “Crete 09

  1. hi matt!
    thanks for the nice report and of course best greetings to manchester from vienna!
    i will go to crete from 4th-11th july and i will stay in the south in “paleochera”. any nice locations in the surroundings there?

    cheers
    marlene

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  2. Hi Marlene,
    Hope you are well. I do not know that area very well, but if you can travel I can email you some nice locations elsewhere.
    All the best,
    Matt

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  3. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the message. I hope to go back to Crete in the future, although for now my 2011 plans are quite vague…

    Cheers,
    Matt

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  4. Hi Matt

    I would like to visit Crete next year in summer.
    Not really a herp trip (beach, family….), but I think I would find some hours to search!

    It would be great if you could give me some hints for Pelophylax und Podarcis

    Best regards,
    Julius

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  5. Hi Matt
    Thanks I have really enjpyed your blog, I am off to Crete on Saturday and now even more enthusiastic. I think your photos are excellent. I think we may have met before on Corfu back in 2012, we were visiting the English Cemetery and met up with the Durrell School and David Bellamy, I remember a very enthusiastic young man, I was rather thrilled at having just got a close up of the Nose horned Viper, does that ring any bells?
    It’s a shame about the chameleon, my friend is in the Algarve and I have told him where to see them, but it looks as though I am missing out! Anyway many thanks and I will report back when we get home
    Best wishes
    John Horsey

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  6. Hi John, yes I remember you from the British cemetery and the photo you took of the viper. Crete is a nice island, quite poor in reptile species considering it’s size but still worthy of a trip. There haven’t been any records of chameleons on Crete for a long time now so I doubt you’d be able to find one. But you never know!
    Have a good trip.
    Matt

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