Category Archives: Reptiles and Amphibians of Spain

Large Psammodromus – Psammodromus algirus – Lagartija Colilarga

  • English: Large Psammodromus
  • Scientific: Psammodromus algirus (Linnaeus 1758)
  • Castilian: Lagartija Colilarga
  • Catalan: Sargantaner gros
  • Portuguese: Lagartixa-do-mato
  • Family: Lacertidae
  • Distribution: Iberia (excluding the northern Atlantic coastal stretch.) Algeria, France, Gibraltar, Italy, Morocco, Portugal and Tunisia

The Large Psammodromus – Psammodromus algirus – Lagartija Colilarga can have a body length of up to 9cm with a slender tail that is two or three times longer. Its back is a soft brown with two pale yellow or off white stripes running down each flank. The back legs up to the beginning of the tail are a soft orange colour, all of this helps them to blend well with fallen leaves and soil shades under bushes which is where they are normally seen. This can be in forests, woods or more open scrubland but generally not far from shrubs that they can hunt through and use as shelter. They are very agile and can even be seen climbing nimbly through gorse bushes, often only giving away their position as they rustle through leaves. This species is very adaptable and can inhabit areas from sea level up to 2600m in altitude in the warmer southern areas of their distribution range.

Large Psammodromus - Psammodromus algirus – Lagartija colilarga-2
Large Psammodromus – Psammodromus algirus – Lagartija colilarga Note the stripes down the flanks.

This is the most numerous species of lizard in Iberia. Their diet consists mainly of arthropods – beetles, spiders, grasshoppers and ants, they will also eat small lizards and fruit or seeds. If the temperature exceeds 15 degrees then they can be active throughout the year only hibernating in areas where the temperature drops lower than this. They are generally diurnal but may also be out on summer nights.

Large Psammodromus - Psammodromus algirus – Lagartija colilarga-2
Large Psammodromus – Psammodromus algirus – Lagartija colilarga – Lunching on a grasshopper.

The males can have blue spots along their sides just above the forelimbs and can also show red / yellow colouring on their faces during the breeding season. Breeding begins in the spring and there may be two or rarely three clutches consisting of between 2 to 11 eggs. The incubation time can vary from one to six weeks with the young appearing from August through to October. The young are 2.5 to 3cm in body length and have the same colouration and patterns as the adults. This species may live up to 7 years.


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Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicuda

  • English: Lataste’s Viper
  • Scientific: Vipera latastei
  • Spanish: Vibora hocicuda
  • French: Vipère de Lataste
  • German: Stülpnasenotter
  • Italian: Vipera di Lataste
  • Portuguese: cobra-cornuda
  • Distribution: Iberian Peninsula (except extreme north), North Africa

VENOMOUS (If bitten seek immediate medical attention)

Characterized by its dorsal markings the Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicudaa has a clear edged dark band in a zigzag pattern on a grey or brown background. Body short and thick of variable length but normally less than 60 cm. The head is well defined, triangular in shape and grey with a very distinct and unmistakeable upturned snout.

It is a diurnal species, but in the warmer months, is of crepuscular or nocturnal habits.

vipera latastei – vibora hocicuda 1
Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicuda sometimes a pale brown colour.

Prefers stony or rocky areas with plenty of scrub, woodland, steep slopes and stone walls with some vegetation. Slow moving, though tends to flee if approached.

The adult diet consists of rodents, lacertids, chicks of small birds and invertebrates.

Lataste's Viper - Vipera latastei - Vibora hocicuda
Lataste’s Viper – Vipera latastei – Vibora hocicuda unmistakeable upturned nose.

Mating takes place in April or May and the Lataste viper is an ovoviviparous species meaninh that the female keeps the eggs in her body (for approximately three months) until the young are born (sometimes more than 10)

If it feels threatened this snake will bite and although seldom fatal, adequate health care is normally required as soon as possible.

Conservation Status

The species V. latastei is classified as Near Threatened (VU) according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed as such because it is probably in significant decline due to widespread habitat loss and persecution throughout much of its range. Further population reduction is expected and localized extinctions in parts of its range are possible.

It is also listed as a strictly protected species (Appendix II) under the Berne Convention

Similar species

The subspecies Vipera latastei gaditana inhabits the extreme southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa. In the Iberian Peninsula its distribution ranges from the south of Portugal (the northern limits are not clearly defined) to the western banks of the Guadalquivir River in the province of Huelva, where it is found throughout the entire province up to the Sierra Morena in the north. It extends through the province of Seville along the wedge formed between Sierra Morena and the Guadalquivir River.

In this area, Vipera latastei are also present so telling the difference can be quite tricky.

Further reading on the fantastic and informative website of Iberian Vipers. It contains ample information about the three viper species(Lataste´s viper, Asp viper and Seoane´s viper),
and the three subspecies: Vipera latastei gaditana, Vipera aspis zinnikeri and Vipera seoanei cantabrica which inhabit the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).

Web: http://www.viborasdelapeninsulaiberica.com/description-vipera-latastei-gaditana-1.html

Vipera latastei abulensis – a subspecies of viper from the Central mountain range (Sierra de Gredos) in depth article with comparative data for the nominate race Vipera latastei latastei and the southern race Vipera latastei gaditana.

Web: http://www.viborasdelapeninsulaiberica.com/viper-articles2.html


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Western false smooth snake – Macroprotodon brevis ibericus – Culebra de Cogulla

  • Scientific name: Macroprotodon brevis ibericus (Wade 1988). Recent genetic and morphological studies have concluded that it needed reclassification. Previously = Macroprotodon cucullatus, now = Macroprotodon brevis ibericus See similar species at bottom of page.
  • Spanish: Culebra de Cogulla Occidental.
  • English: False Smooth Snake.
  • French: Couleuvre à capuchon de l’Ouest.
  • German: Kapuzennatter.
  • Italian: Colubro dal cappuccio.
  • Portuguese: Cobra-de-capuz.
  • Distribution: South Iberia and Western Morocco (Melilla and Ceuta). In general, it lives in the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula absent is absent from the north.

Venomous – harmless to humans

Description

The Western False smooth snake is the smallest snake of all those found on the Iberian Peninsula, normally 30-35cm and not reaching more than 65cm. The head is distinct from the body and appears flattened. The most recognizable feature is a black line from the eye to the mouth and a big black band on the neck. The body is cylindrical and robust, of a grey colour with small dark markings along the back sometimes forming lines and its sides are speckled with small black ocelli. The scales along the back are completely smooth and shiny.

Western false smooth snake - Macroprotodon brevis ibericus - Culebra de Cogulla
Western false smooth snake – Macroprotodon brevis ibericus – Culebra de Cogulla

This species of snake is active throughout the year. Its activity is primarily crepuscular and nocturnal, during the daytime finding refuge under stones and in natural underground galleries or those it creates itself in many different types of habitats including woodland, scrubland and cultivated areas.

Their main food is lizards and geckos, though also includes Iberian Worm Lizards, young snakes, small rodents and insects. Leaving it’s lair rarely to hunt. it instead waits for prey to pass by close enough for capture.

The courtship extends from March to June, 31 to 52 days after copulation 2-6 eggs are laid in moist sunny areas under stones, logs or among leaf litter and hatching after 50-60 days. Females only breed every 2 years meaning it has a biennial reproduction frequency and a reduced clutch size relative to other snake species in Iberia.

Western false smooth snake - Macroprotodon brevis ibericus - Culebra de Cogulla
Western false smooth snake – Macroprotodon brevis ibericus – Culebra de Cogulla

This snake has venom glands connected to 2 back teeth (opistoglifa). It is harmless to larger animals since the teeth with which it injects venom are at the back of its very small mouth, it would be difficult for it to get a sufficient grip and the venom is of very low toxicity.

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) by the IUCN. Its probable decline is caused by extensive loss of habitat in much of its range due to intensive agriculture and human persecution. The recent proliferation of the wild boar (Sus scrofa) affects it negatively due to its foraging habits lifting and turning stones where the western false smooth snake makes its home.

Similar species

Macroprotodon cucullatus or mauritanicus, commonly known as the false smooth snake is found in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Territories, and Tunisia. (Spain, Balearic islands).

Habits are identical to the Western false smooth snake but a key to differing between the two would be geographic location. Remember that Macroprotodon cucullatusis or mauritanicus is found only on the Balearic islands in Spain (Introduced species).

The western false smooth snake is restricted to the south (much temperate areas of Iberia).

The IUCN has listed the false smooth snake as being of “Least Concern”. This is because it has a wide distribution, a large population, seems to be tolerant of some habitat modification and its population is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify it for listing in a more threatened category

The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) which has no markings on either sides of the eyes and the dorsal scales are keeled, not smooth and shiny.


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Lilford’s wall lizard

Lilford’s wall lizard (Podarcis lilfordi ) is a species of lizard in the family Lacertidae. The species is endemic to the Balearic Islands, Spain.

Spanish: Lagartija balear

Its natural habitats are temperate Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation, rocky areas, and rocky shores. Originally distributed throughout the Balearics, the introduction of alien species which started with the Romans has confined the species to the uninhabited islets around the major islands, on almost each of which a local subspecies has evolved.

Lilford’s wall lizard grows to a body length of around 8 cm (snout to base of tail). The tail is about twice the length of the body. The dorsal surface is usually greenish or brownish but varies much between different island subpopulations. There is usually a pale dorso-lateral stripe and there may be several dark streaks or three dark lines running along the spine. The underside is white, cream or pinkish.and the throat may be blotched with a darker colour. Hatchlings very often have a blue tail.

Native to the islands of Menorca and Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, the Cabrera Archipelago to the south of Mallorca, and most of the neighbouring rocky islets This lizard is not present on the main islands any more due to predation by introduced species (cats) and also habitat loss.

Feeding and breeding habits

It mainly feeds on insects, spiders and other arthropods, snails and some vegetable matter which includes flowers, fruits, nectar and pollen.

Some plants endemic to the Balearic Islands depend on this lizard for pollination and plants known to be pollinated by it include the mastic tree Pistacia lentiscus, rock samphire Crithmum maritimum, wild leek Allium ampeloprasum, clustered carline thistle Carlina corymbosa and the sea daffodil Pancratium maritimum.

Breeding takes place in the summer and females sometimes lay up to three clutches of one to four eggs. These hatch in about eight weeks and the emerging young measure 3 to 3.5 cm

There are twenty-seven recognized subspecies many of which are found on only a single island (From wikipedia).

  • Podarcis lilfordi lilfordi (Günther, 1874) – Aire islet, off the southeastern coast of Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi addayae (Eisentraut, 1928)
  • Podarcis lilfordi balearica (Bedriaga, 1879)
  • Podarcis lilfordi brauni (L. Müller, 1927) – Colom islet, off Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi carbonerae Pérez-Mellado & Salvador, 1988 – Carbonera islet, off Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi codrellensis Pérez-Mellado & Salvador, 1988 – Binicondrell islet, off the southern coast of Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi colomi (Salvador, 1980) – Colomer islet, off northeast Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi conejerae (L. Müller, 1927)
  • Podarcis lilfordi espongicola (Salvador, 1979)
  • Podarcis lilfordi estelicola (Salvador, 1979)
  • Podarcis lilfordi fahrae (L. Müller, 1927)
  • Podarcis lilfordi fenni (Eisentraut, 1928) – Sanitja islet, off northern Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi gigliolii (Bedriaga, 1879) – Dragonera islet, off north of Majorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi hartmanni (Wettstein, 1937)
  • Podarcis lilfordi hospitalis (Eisentraut, 1928)
  • Podarcis lilfordi imperialensis (Salvador, 1979)
  • Podarcis lilfordi isletasi (Hartmann, 1953)
  • Podarcis lilfordi jordansi (L. Müller, 1927)
  • Podarcis lilfordi kuligae (L. Müller, 1927)
  • Podarcis lilfordi nigerrima (Salvador, 1979)
  • Podarcis lilfordi planae (L. Müller, 1927)
  • Podarcis lilfordi probae (Salvador, 1979)
  • Podarcis lilfordi porrosicola Pérez-Mellado and Salvador, 1988 – Porros islet, north of Menorca
  • Podarcis lilfordi rodriquezi (L. Müller, 1927) – Ratas Island lizard – Formerly Ratas Island, in Mahón’s harbour (Menorca). Extinct after island was demolished in harbour expansion.
  • Podarcis lilfordi sargantanae (Eisentraut, 1928) – islets located by the north coast of Majorca (Sargantana, Ravells, Bledes and Tusqueta).
  • Podarcis lilfordi toronis (Hartmann, 1953)
  • Podarcis lilfordi xapaticola (Salvador, 1979)

Above image Wikipedia By Orchi – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=890856


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Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado

  • English: Ocellated Lizard
  • Spanish: Lagarto ocelado or Lagarto
  • Portuguese: Sardão
  • Family: Lacerta
  • Distribution: Iberia, southern and western France, noth west Italy
  • Classification: Formerly classified as Lacerta lepida and now a species of Timon, a genus of lizard sometimes regarded as a subgenus of Lacerta, both of which belong to the family of Lacertidae (the wall lizards). They are commonly referred to as “ocellated” due to the eyelike spots of colour on the body.
  • Timon lepidus lepidus – Most of Spain and Portugal. Present where the other sub-species are not present.
  • Timon lepidus ibericus – North-western Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) Their teeth are not arranged the same as the other sub-species, being more aligned and becoming larger and irregular towards the back of the mouth.
  • Timon lepidus nevadensis – South-Eastern Spain. They are duller in colour; their head also seems more pointed.
  • Timon lepidus oteroi Extreme North-Western Spain.
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado

The ocellated lizard is the largest lizard resident in Europe growing to an adult size between 40 to 60 centimetres and sometimes reaching 90 centimetres. Generally, two thirds of the length is taken up by the thick tail. The legs, especially the hind legs, are muscular and strong, with long curved and sharp claws. The sides of the body are decorated with blue spots (especially during breeding season) and the back is a mixture of greens, browns, yellows and reds. The throat and belly, particularly of the males, are yellow. Adult males generally have more blue spots and always a larger, wider head.

Often though, you need to see both sexes at the same time to tell the difference between male and female. Females are generally smaller and sometimes have no blue spots at all. A long lived reptile they can live for as much as 25 years given a lot of luck and agility.

The species is found throughout almost all of Iberia, (plus Mediterranean France and southern Italy) and prefers habitats that are open to the sun, rocky scrub, olive plantations and grasslands. Juveniles seem especially at home close to dry river beds, lakes and water courses but adults seem to thrive in the driest of terrains. Territorial area is usually quite small and localised colonies can be made up of breeding adults, juveniles and young. When disturbed they will quickly run to the nearest cover or return to their burrow amongst tree roots or under a large rock.

Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado A female (I think!) emerging from her burrow.

Telling the difference between the sub species is very difficult but the geographical position will help. (See classification list at top). In reality only a capture and close inspection will reveal the true identification. Beware though as an adult can inflict a very painful bite which almost always festers and takes an age to heal!

Diet is very varied and made up of large insects, beetles and spiders, on occasion bird’s eggs, baby birds, small mammals, other lizards and small snakes. Fruits and berries will be eaten when available as well. Rabbit burrows are often occupied which of course means that a constant supply of young rabbit is available.

Breeding occurs in late spring and early summer, often accompanied by violent fights between males over territory and the right to mate with a female. Generally 5 to 12 eggs are laid between June and July in the ground and the incubation period is about 3 months. The young start to emerge during the month of September giving them only a few short weeks to find a food supply and a suitable safe place to hibernate through the winter.

Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado
Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus ibericus(Lacerta lepida)) Lagarto ocelado Juvenile with the unmistakeable spotty body.

Hibernation takes place from October until March or April depending on seasonal temperatures

The Ocellated lizard is preyed upon by Eagles such as Short toed (aguila culebrera) Circaetus gallicus. Large snakes will take young and juveniles but a fully grown adult only has one real enemy, man, and although reasonable populations are present in Spain and Portugal there has been a substantial decline in many areas due to habitat loss and persecution by hunters that fear the lizard eats all of the partridge eggs and young rabbits.

In the past larger lizards were hunted and eaten as well. A lizard stew in garlic and tomato sauce may sound tasty but beware as the main ingredient is now a protected species!


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Grass snake – Natrix natrix – Culebra de Collar

  • English: Grass snake.
  • Spanish: Culebra de Collar.
  • Nombre científico: (three species) Natrix natrix. (Linnaeus, 1758) – Natrix helvetica helvetica and Natrix astreptophora
  • Français: Couleuvre à collier.
  • Deutsch: Ringelnatter.
  • Italiano: Biscia dal collare.
  • Português: Cobra-de-água-de-colar.
  • Distribution: The grass snake is widely distributed in mainland Europe, ranging from mid Scandinavia to southern Italy. It is also found in the Middle East and northwestern Africa.

Non Venomous

The grass snake has a well defined broad head, round eye and pupil and the iris orange or red. Adults can reach about 130cm in length, though are usually 70-95cm. The most common color is brown or dark green, with small dark spots. The young have a yellowish white collar edged with black, which may disappear entirely in adults. An aquatic species, though less so than the Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) and seen less frequently.

The other forms of Grass snake in Spain

Natrix helvetica helvetica (In Spanish Culebra de Collar Europea) is found in the Pyrenees. The Barred Grass snake has a body colour of grey-green and distinct banding along its flanks for the entire length of its body. It can grow to a length of over a metre. It was included within the grass snake species, Natrix natrix, until August 2017, when genetic analysis led to its reclassification as a separate species.

The Mediterranean Grass Necklace Snake (or the Red-eyed grass snake) (Natrix astreptophora). Again recently seperated form the commong grass snake.

Identifying the differences in the three species in the field is near impossible unless you have excellent photographs are a long time to study the specimen…. I am happy to call it a grass snake… 🙂

Habits and habitat

Generally prefering shrubby locations near water. Can be found in meadows, hedgerows and woodland along the sides of rivers and other water bodies. they are mainly diurnal with crepuscular activity during the hot summer months.

Grass snake - Natrix natrix - Culebra de Collar1
Grass snake – Natrix natrix – Culebra de Collar

Feeding on amphibians, especially frogs, toads, their larvae and fish, grass snakes are strong swimmers and may be found close to rivers and streams. At distance and because they are in the water they are sometimes at first glanced confused with the viperine snake.

The mating period is April through June and a clutch of 12 to 28 eggs are laid 27 to 36 days after copulation. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of 42 to 71 days. Several females may lay eggs in the same place so sometimes a large number of juveniles can be seen in the same area. The young are about 18 centimetres long when they hatch and are immediately independent and self sufficient.

Similar species: The adults are similar to the Montpelier Snake (Malpolon monspeliensis) Note: The grass snake normally has an orange iris and the Montpelier snake has a yellow iris.


The Grazalema Guide

The best way to see all our web projects in one place is over at the Grazalema Guide.

The Grazalema Guide – Tourist Information Portal for the Sierra de Grazalema, Wildside Holidays, The town of Ronda and the Caminito del Rey.

http://grazalemaguide.com/