While Werner and Hannes drove by car through Italy and came across by ferry to Igoumenitsa, the rest of the crew flew via Milan to Athens. We hired a car and visited the famous Akropolis during the first day of the trip. We then drove past the channel of Korinthos to the Peloponnese peninsula. We decided to meet on the south part of Argolis peninsula in the city of Galatas – vis-à-vis of Poros Island.
View from Galata to the Island of Poros and the small port in the sunset
Unfortunately, we had quite bad weather the first few days we were there. Even though we could only search for a few hours we found a high number of species, although only one lizard is normally present in this area – the Lacerta trilineata. Young trilis are highly variable: While some show the typical pattern of having three stripes, others have a back that is uniformly brownish in colour – even juveniles from the same clutch have these differences! Because of the rainy weather, luckily we found some adult green lizards under stones.
The most common snake in this area is Platyceps najadum which was found on nearly every site in high numbers. The slender quick snake is usually hard to catch but during these weather conditions it was quite easy, although most recorded whip snakes were juveniles from the last year.
The Argolis peninsula is the home of Chalcides ocellatus which we found here exclusively. The skink was common everywhere, also during bad weather conditions, when we found it under stones. They grow to be more than 25 cm and can reach really enormous sizes.
Ocellated Skink - Chalcides ocellatus
Another very common skink in this area is Ablepharus kitaibelii, the snake eyed skink. Especially during moist conditions the skink was very abundant everywhere in grassland areas. When the sun came out, the animals disappeared quickly into the soil, under stones or somewhere in the shelter of olive trees. One of the most common snakes here was Typhlops vermicularis which we found under stones as we had expected to find. Some worm snakes were in copula and in one case we found four animals under one stone.
Unlike our last journeys, Mediodactylus kotschyi was the most common gecko species on the Peloponnese. We found it in nearly every area we visited, mostly outside of human settlements.
Now we come to the less common species on the Argolis peninsula: the beautiful grass-green Pelophylax ridibundus, which we found in a stream together with a singleMauremys rivualata. We recorded only a few Hierophis gemonensis and Malpolon monspessulanus and only one big Elaphe quatuorlineata (unfortunately found dead on the road). The Vipera ammodytes was present and Franz was bitten by a juvenile specimen. The snake bit Franz in his right thumb which swelled within twenty minutes to double its size. After two hours his forearm was swollen and the next day his entire arm was seriously swollen and turned blue. About three days later we decided to go to the hospital and after some injections the situation turned for the better. Slowly the swelling became better and after about seven days the arm reduced back to its normal size.
Chronological sequence of the Vipera ammodytes bite
Last but not least we’ll mention the occurrence of Testudo marginata. These are huge tortoises with the typical flattened carapax. Many T. marginata were inflicted by tics sucking on the neck of the tortoises.
On the second day we visited Methana peninsula, formed by a volcano and connected to Peloponnese only by a narrow land bridge. Near the city of Methana the typical hydrogen sulphide smell is recognisable. It can be described as the smell of a huge fart from a dinosaur! In the strange mixture of volcanic and sedimentary rock we found P. najadum, M. kotschyi, A. kitaibelii, T. vermicularis and L. trilineata, but we could only search on one location because it started to rain again.
In the evening we took the 2 min ferry to Poros and ate an excellent dinner. When we came back a fisherman showed us a moon fish that was caught which is rather rare in the Mediterranean Sea.
On the third day we started our trip to the Mani peninsula and drove back further north on the Argolis. We found some tadpoles from the common toad, Bufo bufo, L. trilineataand a huge V. ammodytes hiding in a bush. On a plateau near Trachia we first foundPodarcis peloponnesiaca and Algyroides moreoticus, two endemic lizards of southern Greece.
|Short stops in the area of Megalopoli
After a long journey we stopped on a pass near Megalopoli and waited for the second car. In the meantime we surveyed a meadow with a diverse orchid flora and lots ofAblepharus and Typhlops which we found under stones. Finally, Thomas found a beautiful male Eryx jaculus that was also under a stone – according to Keymar it is the first record in this area and also in this elevation. Megalopoli lies on an elevation of 430 m so we estimated our record to be about 600 m above sea level which correlates well to our map.
When we came back from the south we made another stop nearby Alphios River and found a highly diverse herpetofauna. In total we found four lacertids here: L. trilineata, P. peloponnesiaca, A. moreoticus and Podarcis taurica, the green meadow lizard, which was present in high numbers.
After a quite long time without finding a really big snake Hannes (who else?) was lucky and caught a huge Malpolon monspessulanus – what a beauty!
Malpolon monspessulanus: Lenght about 130cm
Other records in this area were P. ridibundus (grey to olive colour), A. kitaibelii, Natrix natrix (typical persa form) and Anguis cephallonicus. The grass snakes are highly variable on the Peloponnese, which you will see later…
The endemic slow worm shows the typical neck flames and has a really dark (black) ventral side. In the south part of the peninsula we only found the cephallonicus form which inhabits mostly forests and moisture habitats.
|Mani peninsula – coastal area
First of all we want to thank Eric Egerer for his hospitality in Kardamyli. We will never forget the beautiful hours we spent in Eric’s garden of Eden, watching lizards, tortoises and geckos or the romantic Bacalao candle light dinner (we ran out of electricity because of a thunder storm) in a small tavern in a mountain village where everything around us was flooded. It was an unforgettable week!
Concierge Wolfgang - Eric & Werner - Hemidactylus turcicus in the garden toilet
Full of enthusiasm, we started to search on a pass street. Before we reached Kardamyli we found a new species: Ophiomorus punctatissimus, which looks a bit like a slow worm but shows its typical dots on its belly and easily loses its tail! The skink is rather short, rare and hard to catch. In total we found less about five specimens. On this site we also found a Hierophis gemonensis, which played dead like a Natrix and then suddenly disappeared. During this moist week blind snakes were a very common observation in areas with deeper soil. They were always found under stones or even sometimes even mating.
After our first night in Kardamyli, Eric and Franz went to the hospital to treat the snake bite. On a meadow near the hospital they found a male Podarcis taurica, which seems to be missing on the Mani and reaches its southern limit in Kalamata. We couldn’t find these lizards on the Mani peninsula nor on the western finger.
We had horrible weather in the morning hours and we made a small sight-seeing tour along the coast to Trachila. There, we had breakfast and drank some beer with natives. Suddenly the weather changed and we started to search for herps. Consequently, these were the most successful days in terms of herpetological biodiversity in our lives! On average we found about 10 - 15 species per site (!), and most species were in high numbers. From the already mentioned species we found A. kitaibelii, P. apodus, V. ammodytes, P. najadum, P. peloponnesiaca, t. vermicularis, L. trilineata, H. gemonensis, M. kotschyi, A. moreoticus and M. monspessulanus (rare).
Really bad weather - Foto: Thomas, Driver: Christoph, Car: Hyundai Accent
Near a swimming pool we found a young Bufo bufo and a male Bufo viridis that was swimming in the pool. Our first Hemidactylus turcicus were found during a longer session in Eric’s garden toilet where three geckos were searching for shelter from the bad weather. Apart from this record we found H. turcicus only once in an olive garden on the road embankment where we also found two more beautiful Eryx jaculus about 40 cm in size. Two more juvenile Eryx were found by Eric in other habitats. In total we saw five Eryx, which is quite a lot for one week, but none of the boas reached the size of our Corfu specimen of 80 cm. The very common Testudo marginata, which was described as subspecies weissingeri, does not reach the size of the rest Peloponnese individuals. Eric with his long experience of breeding weissingeri and marginata found several differences between the two forms – hopefully he will let us know in a publication.
We also noticed that the local Testudo hermanni is a pygmy form compared to the tortoises further north. In contrast to T. marginata T. hermanni prefers the meadow terraces in higher elevation. We only found view hermannis while marginatas were more abundant.
On our 7th day we crossed the Taygetos via Saidona and Exochori, two small mountain villages in the Taygetos. When we reached the end of the sealed road we checked out a torrent and searched in the valley. Rana graeca is the local brown frog that is very common along the mountain streams. We found lots of tadpoles in the pools, while larvae of Salamandra salamandra were rare. In the shady surroundings of an old left monastery we found our first Anguis cephallonicus (the Alphios stop was later) and not far away Christoph mentioned that he found something like situla through our walkie-talkies. We were all really happy to find our first living Zamenis situla – and it was not the only one. Only a few minutes later Hannes and Franz found juvenile leopard snakes. It could be they all came from the same clutch. Literature has already mentioned that although Z. situla rarely exceeds elevations over 500 m, we found three within 10 minutes in about 1000 m elevation! We found all other common species up to 1000 m of course.
Near the streams we found a big dark scorpion – Iurus dufoureius, which inhabits moisture habitats. According to Keymar the scorpion is very poisonous and dangerous. In dryer habitats it is replaced by Mesobuthus (probably) gibbosus which is also quite common.
In higher elevation the vegetation changed and natural forests replaced the olive plantations. The climate became cooler and we observed a different herpetofauna adapted to the moist climate. Rana graeca populates small stagnant ponds as well as streams. Lizard specialist Werner stopped nearby some rocks, because he had a suspect of finding Lacerta graeca and really after a few seconds we angled several Greek lizards. We assessed a preference of steep rocky terrain for the lizards, which showed a lot of compliances with L. oxycephala: Both species colonise rocks and show the typical plain snout to enter even smallest chinks in the rock – maybe L. oxycephalais shyer than L. graeca. According to Dr. Mayer these two species are not related in terms of genetic, they just had very similar adaptation processes during their evolution and developed similar characteristics.
Taygetos: nice habitat
When we passed the ridge we stopped for Podarcis muralis and again we were lucky. The area of the wall lizards starts at about an elevation of 800 m and reaches the top of the Taygetos. We found lots of juvenile lizards while adults were rare. From the optical point of view we couldn’t find big differences to the Austrian lizards, although the local subspecies albanica differs to the nominatic form. The further we drove the steeper and worse became the road and while crossing several torrents we had to push the cars to proceed further. Finally we came to a passage, which we couldn’t cross and so we had to drive back to the top of the pass. When we drove through a shady, damp forest we found an adult fire salamander, which was freshly killed by traffic. Fire salamanders are quite rare in the area and unfortunately it was the only adult specimen which we found during our stay. We could not find big differences to Austrian salamanders - maybe the dots are a bit smaller.
Finally we found a road which led us to the east side of the Taygetos, where we made a last stop before our obligatory beer break. We found all common species again and the highlight was a semiadult Scheltopusik. After about hundred recorded P. apodus it was the first observation of a specimen with the typical juvenile pattern – we don’t know why they are so hard to find…
After our stop in Gythio we investigated the slope to the castle of Pasavas where we found 10 species (while we lost one species): Algyroides moreoticus (in copula), Lacerta trilineata, Podarcis peloponnesiaca, Lacerta graeca, Ophiopmorus punctatissimus(common), Ablepharus kitaibelii, Mediodactylus kotschyi, Testudo marginata, Hierophis gemonensis, Platyceps najadum, Bufo bufo and Pelophylax ridibunda. It was quite a typical site for the Peloponnese but we lost one of our members. Franz did not find the way back to our starting point, he got lost completely and fortunately Franz had one of our walky talkies and after about two hours of search we located him several miles away… Guess who paid the beer in the evening!
|Pylos - The Western Peninsula
We spent one of our days on the western peninsula in the area of Pylos, searching for water snakes, terrapins and the introduced African chameleon. First of all we searched nearby a river in the village of Rizomylos, where we found only some lizards – P. peloponnesiaca, A. moreoticus and strange green lizards, which showed blue cheeks (but not blue throats). We identified them as Lacerta trilineata, very similar to lizards from the Aegean islands. Eric already knew this "blue" green lizards and believed they are Lacerta viridis but we watched several individuals and definitely identified them as Lacerta trilineata. Unfortunately we could not take tale samples but further research should clear the status of this population.
Our second stop was dedicated to find Chamaeleo africanus and about five minutes after our stop Thomas found two young chameleons in beach shrubs basking in the morning sun. The basilisk chameleon was introduced in ancient times, maybe during the Navarino war in 1827 between a united European armada and the Turkish and Egyptian fleet, which was destroyed in a tough battle and sunk near Pylos.
Hannes found our only alive Elaphe quatuorlineata while searching for chameleons. The juvenile snake was sitting in a bush in about 1 m elevation maybe hunting for chameleons. Another Z. situla were found freshly killed on the road. Other records on this site were L. trilineata (green form), H. gemonensis, T. marginata, T. hermanni, A. moreoticus, P. ridibundus (the distribution limit of P. epeirotica is further north), A. kitaibelii, M. monspessulanus.
On a near channel and along a stream we searched for other herps and found lots of sunbathing Mauremys rivualata and a huge Natrix natrix. Although Eric found some dice snakes in previous excursions we searched in vain for N. tessellata. Emys orbicularis seems to be very rare compared to M. rivulata – we only found few European terrapins in this channel. Also some N. natrix swam to catch tadpoles of H. arborea and P. ridibundus. After the midday heat we went back to search for big chameleons but Hannes could only find another juvenile one and two calling H. arborea sitting in the shrubs. After a very hot but successful day we went back to Karamyli and our Mani stay came to an end…
After the visit of three peninsulas in the south part of the Peloponnese, we started to go north and passed some interesting places on the way to the plateau of Feneos. North of Tripoli we surprisingly found a skiing resort and the landscape (dominated by the local fir - Abies cephalonica) looked very similar to some alpine valleys. Before the pass road started, we stopped for the enormous spring of Ladanas river, which might be the origin of the disappearing river Olvios in the Feneos basin, but it is not proved yet.
The basin of Feneos is bounded all around by high mountains. The few entrance roads (or ways) lead through passes of about 1300 m elevation and guarantee a unique isolated herpetofauna comparable to an island. We all wondered how so many species could immigrate into the highland basin, which lies between 750 and 1000 m. From the pass we had a wonderful view over the basin, which once comprised a huge lake. The shores can still be seen and the old villages give evidence for the erstwhile water level. Nowadays the lowland is used for walnut plantations, barley and oats growing. The temperatures dropped nearly to zero degree during the night and climbed only to eighteen degree during the days. We had a lot of rain, clouds and mist but we even found a lot of species especially during the short sun windows while we searched.
Werner visited Feneos several times and wrote papers about its herpetofauna. He also arranged some excursions together with three students of a German biological research group. Two of us (Werner and Hannes) could even stay in the research centre in Kalivia together with Rene, Aileen and Yvonne who came along with us during our search. The rest resided in a very fine hotel in Goura, where nobody spoke English or German.
Our first target was a recently built water supply dam surrounded by a natural forest, a meadow and stone walls nearby the outlet of the reservoir. We found A. kitaibelii, A. moreoticus, L. trilineata, P. peloponnesiaca, P. muralis and Podarcis taurica in a very high number although it was rather cold. Nearby the outlet of the reservoir we saw three remarkable coloured Natrix natrix with a weird dark pattern. Rene also turned a lot of stones and caught our only Natrix tessellata – thanks for this! Around the lake we found T. hermanni, P. ridibunda, R. graeca and the Germans told us also about Rana dalmatina, which Hannes found during his second stay in August.
About one km further we made our second stop and it was one of our best stations ever. Here we found both forms of the slow worm – while Anguis fragilis was rather rare, A. cephallonicus was very common with about 40 records. In about half an hour we caught several lizards, three big Malpolons, a very large P. najadum, one juvenile Z. situla (Wolfgang - what a common snake!) and some T. hermanni – the animals were all really slow, because the temperature was still about 10 degree but when the sun came out all reptiles had to come out. We have never caught Montpellier snakes or trilis so easily!
After our lunch break we drove to the impressive Olvios outflow, where a big river suddenly disappears in the rocks. Nearby on a stone slope we searched for Coronella austriaca, which Werner knew from this site. Coronella is very rare on the Peloponnese and up to now only half a dozen sites for its occurrence are known and mostly only one single snake was found. The only exception is the Olvios outflow, where Werner found a dozen of smooth snakes within one hour. Unfortunately we weren't that lucky but we recorded some Bufo viridis, both slow worms, some lizards, one H. gemonensis and a nice big Z. situla (Wolfgang again!). Near Goura we again found most of the common species and additionally L. graeca, which inhabited the rocks above the village nearby the romantic chapel.
5th Historic Acropolis Rally 3 - 7 May 2006
The dinners during our stay in Feneos were unforgettable. Because we couldn't communicate with the innkeeper, he took us to the kitchen showed us different meat and mentioned something like Arni, Chorino and some other weird terms and we decided what to take for our meal. It was quite funny when we mixed the words for a sausage and chard (a type of spinach) and finally we received a huge piece of meat together with big sausages as a side dish. The toilets were directly beside the dining room without a corridor between and the cook heated the pub with an oven (it was extremely cold) standing in the middle of the room and the chimney pipe run through half of the pub before it leads to the funnel. It was very interesting to see the standards of business establishments in this area. By the way – we believe there is no hairdresser in the basin of Feneos. The ancient Akropolis rally lead through Goura on the same evening and Wolfgang Rennfahrersepp Simlinger took some amazing pictures of the classic cars.
On our last day we had really bad weather, but we still wanted to find a new species and so we went to the upper reaches of the Olvios river searching for Podarcis erhardii. Werner explained to us the potential habitats of the rare lizard but we couldn't find it, while the professor himself watched the area for half an hour an then moved to a small landslide, where he was successful and caught a couple of Podarcis erhardii. After the photo session and another search where we found M. kotschyi and a lot of other species, we decided to go for a beer, because the weather turned even worse and we discussed what to do for our last afternoon. Werner suggested to drive to another Feneos pass, where he once found his first Coronella.
It was very cold and windy up there and when we turned stones we found some B. viridis, L. graeca and P. taurica and suddenly Wolfgang found a juvenile Coronella austriaca under a stone – a very rare observation in this latitude.
After a nice evening in the restaurant our ways separated. The aeroplane team started their way back to Athens via Mycenae, while Werner and Hannes drove on via Attica to Euboea and further to Skyros. On their way back they visited Northern Greece before they drove back to Austria – hopefully they'll provide a trip report soon! Here we want to thank the German team – Yvonne, Aileen and Rene – for their hospitality and their patience. Thanks guys!
Recapitulating we must say, that Peloponnese is the best place, we have ever visited in terms of herpetology and natural diversity and especially in richness of individuals.
Other species on the Peloponnese, which we couldn't find:
Telescopus fallax: After we found half a dozen of leopard snakes the cat snake is our only left target - maybe it was a bit to cold during the nights – who knows
Zamenis longissimus: This snake is very rare on this peninsula and only occurs in some places in high altitude areas
Triturus vulgaris and Triturus alpestris: We didn't find both newts – according to Werner Mayer we didn't visit the right places for the newts.
Pelobates syriacus: We also missed the Eastern Spadefoot toad, which occurs in the Arcadian highlands.
Pelophylax epeirotica: This green frog lives in the north-western Peloponnese, which we didn't visit.
Thanks to Faron Hrynewich and Matt Wilson for checking the English version of the trip report!