Category Archives: Reptiles and Amphibians of Spain

Stripeless treefrog – Hyla meridionalis – Ranita meridional

  • English: Stripeless Tree frog
  • Scientific: Hyla meridionalis
  • Spanish: Ranita Meridional
  • French: rainette méridionale
  • German: Mittelmeer-Laubfrosch
  • Italian: Raganella mediterranea
  • Portuguese: Rela-meridional
  • Distribution: Southern France, northern Italy, southern Portugal, Spain (from Catalonia to Andalucia), Menorca, and Madeira. It can also be found in Garajonay National Park, on the island of La Gomera.
  • Similar species: Iberian tree frog (Hyla molleri) – Ranita de San Antonio. This tree frog (formally the European tree frog – Hyla arborea) has now been recognised as its own species and is known as Hyla molleri. Also known as the Iberian tree frog or Moller’s tree frog (See below for more information).

Description

The Stripeless treefrog – Hyla meridionalis – Ranita meridional is a small frog (usually no more than 5cm (2 inches) in length). The skin is very smooth and shiny, light green in colour which camouflages perfectly among the vegetation. The head is broad and rounded with prominent eyes and a dark stripe from the nostril to behind the eardrum. sometimes reffered to as the Mediterranean tree frog, it is a very agile climber due to adhesive disks on the end of each digit.

Stripeless treefrog - Hyla meridionalis – Ranita meridional
Stripeless treefrog – Hyla meridionalis – Ranita meridional

As the name suggests this frog doesn’t have the dark stripes down the side of body and legs that the Iberian tree frog (Hyla molleri) has.

Habits and diet

Activity is restricted to the twilight hours or night time and they prefer damp meadows and wetlands or scrub next to quiet rivers where they hide in thick vegetation. Tree frogs eat a variety of small arthropods such as spiders, flies, beetles, butterflies, and caterpillars. Their ability to jump large distances also allows them to catch flying insects.

larvae feed on detritus, found on the pond bottom or any other vegetable or animal existing in the water.

Breeding

Breeding takes place in permanent ponds, flooded fields, ditches and streams with low flow. In the mating season the males will go to the water edge to sing, especially between February and April. The female will lay from 400 to 1000 eggs in the water in small packages, attached them to submerged plants.

Depending on the water temperature, the eggs hatch between two and nine days. Afterwards, the tadpoles develop for forty-six to ninety days, being able, in exceptional cases, to overwinter in the larval stage.

Iberian tree frog – Hyla molleri – Ranita de San Antonio

The San Antón or San Antonio frog (Hyla molleri) was considered a subspecies of Hyla arborea (European tree frog) until molecular phylogeny studies showed that it was a distinct species .

Hyla molleri, also known as the Iberian tree frog or Moller's tree frog
Hyla molleri, also known as the Iberian tree frog or Moller’s tree frog – The striped tree frog 🙂

This new species is only distributed to the Atlantic southwest of France and the western Iberian Peninsula reaching the south of Portugal, and the west and north of Andalusia. From the east it reaches Albacete, Cuenca, Teruel and Huesca.

Hybridization

In the areas of contact with the Hyla meridionalis such as theTiétar Valley, the Sierra Morena, Badajoz and Guipúzcoa, hybrids sometimes occur but these have been found to be sterile and no breeding of hybrids have ever been recorded.


Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Andalucian wall lizard – Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza

  • English: Andalusian Wall Lizard
  • Scientific: Podarcis vaucheri
  • Spanish: Lagartija andaluza
  • French: Lézard Andalouse
  • German: Andalusischen Mauereidechse
  • Italian: Lucertola Andalusa
  • Portuguese: Lagartixa-andaluz
  • Distribution: southern Spain (Western Andalucia), central and northern Morocco, northern Algeria and northern Tunisia.
  • Similar species: Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis hispanicus) Lagartija ibérica (Basically if you are anywhere other than Western Andalucia its probably an Iberian wall lizard….) – Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) lives in open terrain and does not climb – Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus) has 4 well defined darker stripes and much longer tail.
Andalucian wall lizard - Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza
Andalucian wall lizard sunning itself on a pine tree

The Andalucian wall lizard – Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza is a small, slender lizard with a somewhat flattened head and body. Their body length is between 4 and 6 cm (1½ to 2½inches). The tail can be more than twice the body length, bringing the total length to18 cm in the larger examples (7 inches). The males are the larger and more robust, with voluminous head and longer limbs. They display a wide variety of colours, the background can be brown, grey or green. The dorsal pattern of the males is usually green and brown with black spots forming broken or irregular lines. The females usually have more defined stripes.

Active throughout the year except during the coldest winter days they prefer habitas with platforms where they can sunbathe with close access to shelters, to hide in case of danger. They like to live in stony and rocky areas, old walls, buildings, tree trunks, etc.

Food consists of small insects, spiders, millipedes and gastropods.

Andalucian wall lizard - Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza
Andalucian wall lizard – Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza – Note the hatchlings blue tail.

Breeding can start from late February and lasts until July. During this period, the males engage in fights, after which the winner mates with the female. They can produce up to 4 clutches of eggs per year. 1-5 eggs per clutch are laid which take 48 to 82 days to hatch. At birth they have a brown dorsal colour often with a blue or green tail.

Andalucian wall lizard - Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza
Andalucian wall lizard – Podarcis vaucheri – Lagartija andaluza – Males fighting during breeding season.

This species was formally treated as a subspecies of Podarcis hispanicus, (See below) but rose to the rank of species (Oliver et al. 2000) and was originally considered to only be in northern Africa, but has also been shown to be present in southern Spain (Harris et al. 2002).


The Iberian wall lizard – Podarcis hispanicus – Lagartija ibérica

To be honest, I can’t tell the difference between these two lizard species and some studies even point to interbreeding along the distribution frontiers.

Identification by geographic location is the key… basically, anywhere between Malaga along the coast towards Cádiz and then the Portuguese border and inland to the Sierra Norte de Seville and back towards Jaen seem to be the territory of the Andalucian wall lizard….. Anywhere else its the Iberian wall lizard…. (Any comments and corrections are most welcome)

Iberian wall lizard - Podarcis hispanica – Lagartija Ibérica
Iberian wall lizard – Podarcis hispanica – Lagartija Ibérica

There is also a subspecies of the Iberian wall lizard, Podarcis hispanica atrata that lives in the Columbretes Islands off the eastern coast of Spain on the way to the Balearics. See wikipedia article in Spanish here.

Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Natterjack toad – Epidalia (Bufo) calamita – Sapo corredor

  • Family: Bufonidae
  • English: Natterjack Toad
  • Scientific: Epidalia (Bufo) calamita
  • Spanish: Sapo corredor
  • Basque: Apo lasterkaria
  • Catalan: Gripau corredor, gripau
  • Galician: Sapo corriqueiro
  • Portuguese: Sapo-corredor
  • Distribution Iberia: Found throughout all Portugal and much of Spain, including the Pyrenees but excluding the northern Atlantic region and the dry central interior, though present in the south.
  • Further distribution: UK mainland and Ireland, France through Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and southern Swedish coastal regions to Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states, and also in Northwest Africa and west Asia. In the UK and Eire the species is restricted in its distribution and considered endangered. In Ireland, found only on the Dingle Peninsula, and distribution in the UK is almost restricted to coastal areas.

The Natterjack toad – Epidalia (Bufo) calamita – Sapo corredor is a species of Bufo, a large genus of so-called “true toads” traditionally found worldwide, although some authorities have now separated the Old World species from the New.

Description

Epidalia (Bufo) calamita is a medium-sized toad with a total maximum length of about 9-10cm in Iberia. (Elsewhere in Europe the species is smaller, males measuring 8cm and females 10cm). The head is wider than long, with a short rounded snout, and the area between the eyes is flat. The tympanum, measuring about half the diameter of the eye, is usually not visible, and if it is, only the front part can be seen.

Natterjack toad - Epidalia (Bufo) calamita - Sapo corredor
Natterjack toad – Epidalia (Bufo) calamita – Sapo corredor with a faint yellow dorsal stripe

Colouration and pattern are rather variable, the overall colour being shades of brown, grey, yellow or green and a pattern of greenish flecks often being present and usually a yellow dorsal stripe running from between the eyes to the posterior. The warts on the back may be chestnut brown or red in colour. In Iberia the flecks may be larger and more clearly defined, and individuals more often lack the characteristic yellow stripe than elsewhere. The underside is off white to light grey, with dark spots. The iris is lemon yellow to green.

The fingers are short, the third being the longest, followed by the first and the second which are equal in length, and the fourth being the shortest. There are two tubercles on the palms. The dorsal skin has a fair number of largish warts, while the skin on the rear of the belly is granular in texture. The toes are relatively short and flattened.

Epidalia (Bufo) calamita can be easily distinguished from Bufo spinosus (the Iberian spiny toad also present in Iberia) normally by the color of the eyes (normally red in B. spinosus and yellow in Epidalia (Bufo) calamita) but also by the shape of the paratoid glands. In Bufo spinosus these are kidney-shaped, bending inwards somewhat in the middle, while in Epidalia (Bufo) calamita they are straight, being further apart at the front than at the back. Epidalia (Bufo) calamita normally also has a thin yellow stripe down the back which is lacking in Bufo spinosus.

 Epidalia (Bufo) calamita

Left: Eye detail of a Natterjack toad. Right: Lifting a stone revealed the daytime hiding place of these two Natterjack toads. (Andalucia)

Across its range the Natterjack toad normally prefers sandy soils and in northern Europe is mainly a lowland animal. However, it can be adaptable: in Spain it can be found in a variety of habitats including arid areas, coastal sands, cultivated fields and mountainous regions.

Feeding and habits

Like most European amphibians the natterjack toad feeds on a variety of invertebrates, but concentrates mainly on arthropods (including various insects and spiders) and less on other invertebrates than the Iberian spiny toad. In Spain, beetles, ants, millipedes, earwigs, grasshoppers and related insects and scorpions have been cited as part of its diet.

The toad is normally a nocturnal animal, coming out at dusk and retiring shortly before dawn, but occasionally may be out in the day, even calling. They may share burrows with other animals or dig their own to a depth of 15-20cm with their forelimbs (and sometimes hind limbs also), or otherwise shelter under stones or logs.

Natterjacks secrete bufotoxin less readily than the Iberian spiny toad, but like the latter resort to the defensive pose in which they stand erect on their limbs and swell their bodies up to make themselves appear much bigger. They also secrete a characteristic smell.

The Natterjack’s gait is also distinctive, being more of a scurrying (likened to that of a mouse) than the hopping or walking normally associated with toads.

Epidalia (Bufo) calamita hibernates on land, as a rule not more than 20m from the original spawning ground (unless it has migrated to a new area) and preferably in a southward-exposed position. The period of hibernation varies with the geographical location and altitude.

In the wild it may be comparatively long-lived, up to 17 years, and in captivity is known to have exceeded this.

Breeding

The Natterjack’s mating season is longer than that of the other European toads, typically lasting 5-6 months. In Iberia it may begin in December, depending on altitude, and last until June. For example Natterjacks in Southern Portugal may start courting in December, those in the centre in February to March, and those in the mountains in May and June; in Leon, from the end of February until May; and Andalucia from mid-January until the end of March.

Natterjacks have a very loud and distinctive mating call amplified by the single vocal sac found under the chin of the male; their name literally means the “chattering toad” – the jack (toad) that natters (talks a lot).

Unlike the Iberian spiny toads (Bufo spinosus), natterjack toads are not tied strongly to their breeding grounds and do not travel far to them but instead prefer to use shallow, often temporary bodies of water, which have the advantage of having few competitors or predators in them. Males usually call from the banks, singly or in chorus, and the calling cry can be heard at up to 2km distance.

Amplexus is axillary, i.e. the male grasping the female under the armpits. The visiting females do not stay long in the water but lay two long strands of 1,500-7,500 eggs which are usually laid directly on the bottom rather than being attached to vegetation (the latter being the case with Bufo spinosus). The eggs develop within 3-10 days (usually less than a week) and as with the Common Toad the resultant tadpoles may form large swarms. From birth to metamorphosis takes 1-2 months: upon metamorphosis the toadlets are less than 3cm long and more diurnal than the adults.

The breeding season varies according to range. In Portugal it lasts between November and April but lasts until June in the high mountains of the Gredos. The long mating season also allows for more than one clutch of eggs to be laid, up to three a year in some cases: heavy rainfall often triggers mating. Sexual maturity also varies with latitude, taking 3-7 years in northern Europe but in Iberia 3 years for males and 4 for females.

Occasionally hybrids of Bufo spinosus and Epidalia (Bufo) calamita are encountered but they are thought to be sterile as no breeding of the hybrids has been observed.

Threats to the Natterjack toad – Epidalia (Bufo) calamita – Sapo corredor

The most common enemies of the Natterjack are various birds, including not only birds of prey such as some owl species and gulls but also apparently innocuous birds as the sparrow. Colubrid snakes such as the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) and Viperine Snake (Natrix maura) also prey on Natterjacks and their tadpoles. Tadpoles are also preyed upon by various water invertebrates including the semi aquatic raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus, which also takes freshly metamorphosed young.

The Natterjack’s longer mating seasons, relatively large eggs and tadpoles, tolerance to warm weather and even brackish water, and ability to emigrate to new areas stand it in better stead to cope with changing conditions than some other amphibians. However, it is adversely affected by the loss of invertebrate diversity in its habitat which reduces the amount of prey available.

Natterjack toad - Epidalia (Bufo) calamita - Sapo corredor
Natterjack toad – Epidalia (Bufo) calamita – Sapo corredor

Simila Species

Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico


Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico

  • English: Iberian spiny toad
  • Scientific: Bufo spinosus
  • Spanish: Sapo común Ibérico
  • Basque: Apo
  • Catalan: Gripau comú
  • Galician: Sapo común
  • Aragonese: Zapo común
  • Portugese: Sapo comum
  • Distribution: Iberian Peninsula and southwestern France (north to about Caen and about Lyon; an isolated population on the Isle of Jersey (United Kingdom); northwestern Africa in the northern mountains of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
  • Species name changes: The common toad was first given the name Rana bufo by the Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of Systema Naturae in 1758. In this work, he placed all the frogs and toads in the single genus Rana. It later became apparent that this genus should be divided, and in 1768, the Austrian naturalist Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti placed the common toad in the genus Bufo, naming it Bufo bufo. The toads in this genus are included in the family Bufonidae, the true toads. Various subspecies of B. bufo have been recognized over the years. The Caucasian toad is found in the mountainous regions of the Caucasus and was at one time classified as B. b. verrucosissima. It has a larger genome and differs from B. bufo morphologically and is now accepted as Bufo verrucosissimus. The spiny toad was classified as B. b. spinosus. and is found in France, the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb. It grows to a larger size and has a more spinier skin than its northern counterparts with which it intergrades. It is now accepted as Bufo spinosus. The Gredos toad, B. b. gredosicola, is restricted to the Sierra de Gredos, a mountain range in central Spain. It has exceptionally large paratoid glands and its colour tends to be blotched rather than uniform. (However, It is now considered to be Bufo spinosus as well).

The Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico is a member of a large genus of so-called “true toads” traditionally found worldwide, although some authorities have now separated the Old World species from the New.

Description

A relatively large toad with a total maximum length of about 21cm, though males are rather smaller at 9-10cm and the average female is 15cm. The head is longer than wide, with a short rounded snout, and the area between the eyes is either flat or concave. The tympanum is barely visible, measuring about half the diameter of the eye. The fingers are short, the third being the longest, followed by the the first and then the second and fourth, these latter two being of equal length. There are two tubercles on the palms. The toes are relatively long and flattened.

In coloration the adult Iberian spiny toad is usually a brownish colour, but there is variation, especially in the southern part of its range. Colour variations include sand, brick-red, dark brown, grey and olive, as well as darker marks against the overall tone. The underside is whitish or grey, often with a marbled effect. The eye is copper or gold.

Bufo spinosus can be distinguished from the Natterjack toad – Bufo calamita (also present in Iberia) normally by the color of the eyes (normally red in B. spinosa and yellow in B. calamita) but also by the shape of the paratoid glands. (Look to the rear of the eyes). There may be a raised area on both sides of the head containing pore-like openings. These areas are known as the parotoid glands. Not only can their presence be a key to the species, but also their shape, since in some species the gland area is straight and in others bent inwards. In Bufo spinosus these are kidney-shaped, bending inwards somewhat in the middle, while in Bufo calamita they are straight, being further apart at the front than at the back. Bufo calamita normally also has a thin yellow stripe down the back which is lacking in Bufo spinosus. (Bufo calamita also goes by the scientific name of Epidalia calamita).

Iberian common toad - Bufo spinosus - Sapo comun Ibérico

LEFT: Iberian common toad – Bufo spinosus in water. RIGHT: Natterjack toad – Bufo calamita. (Note the yellow eye)

Diet of the Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico

Like most European amphibians the Iberian spiny toad feeds on a variety of invertebrates. In Spain beetles, ants, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, grasshoppers and related insects have been cited as part of its diet, as well as occasionally rodents (presumably mice, voles or similar small species), a reminder that these toads are relatively large. (However one observer states that they do not eat slugs as they probably don’t taste very nice? 🙂 ).

Habits

The toad is normally a nocturnal animal, although it can be found out and about in the open during wet weather or in the breeding season.

I once encountered a pair in amplexus by the stream in rainy weather during the daytime (picture further down the page), the pair making little or no attempt to move. (Amplexus = The copulatory embrace of frogs and toads, during which the male fertilizes the eggs that are released by the female).

Unlike frogs, toads rarely hop but prefer to walk.

They have two effective anti-predator devices: bufotoxin, a white milky substance which is secreted via the paratoid glands behind the eyes and which is extremely distasteful (and sometimes poisonous) to many predators, and the defensive pose in which they stand erect on their limbs and swell their bodies up to make themselves appear much bigger. This defence may be especially useful against the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) since this species of snake does not seem to be affected by bufotoxin.

Bufo spinosus has a winter rest period from October-November until February-March. Most spend this period on land rather than in water.

Breeding

During the breeding season, males arrive first at their home ponds/rivers and can remain for some weeks (3-28 nights) whereas the females may make just a short visit (3-6 nights) to find a mate and lay their eggs. Mating itself is a rough-and-tumble affair. Since males usually outnumber females by four or five times they must fight for mates and often end up clasping different species, fish or even inanimate objects, or else several home in on one female and form a breeding “ball”.

Iberian common toad - Bufo spinosus - Sapo comun Ibérico

Note the copper/red coloured eye of these mating Iberian Spiny toads.

Males clasped by other males have a special “release call” to notify the offender of his mistake! Needless to say this level of competitive activity is stressful for all the participants, and toad mortality is quite high as a result. Females lay 3,000-8,000 eggs in two strings which they lay simultaneously over the course of up to several hours, depositing these on aquatic vegetation often in places where there is good sunlight.

The eggs develop within 2-3 weeks and the resultant tadpoles form large swarms. At metamorphosis they are 7-12mm long and more diurnal than the adults.

Iberian common toad - Bufo spinosus - Sapo comun Ibérico
Iberian common toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico – With a tail and tiny back legs.

The breeding season varies according to range. In Portugal it lasts between November and April but lasts until June in the high mountains of the Sierra de Gredos.

Sexual maturity also varies with latitude, taking 3-7 years in northern Europe but in Iberia 3 years for males and 4 for females. Occasionally hybrids of Bufo spinosus and Bufo calamita can be found but they are thought to be sterile as no breeding of the hybrids has ever been observed.

Threats to the Iberian spiny toad – Bufo spinosus – Sapo comun Ibérico

Like all amphibians it is faced with the threats of habitat loss, chemical pollution and, more seriously, long-term climate change. As a species it has often been persecuted in the past by humans, partly because of a cultural association with its use by witches.

Despite the bufotoxin to deter casual predators, Bufo spinosus is also preyed on by various birds of prey (eagles, buzzards, kites, and owls) and the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix).

The toad fly Lucilia bufonivora also causes depredation by laying its eggs on the toad’s back. The ensuing larvae migrate to the nasal cavities of the toad and feed on the tissues in this area, causing the death of the host within 2-3 days.

One recent study estimates that adult populations have a complete turnover of 4-5 years, ie a loss/death rate of up to 25% of adults each year.

Iberian spiny toads are noted for their migrations towards their home ponds, a process which may begin in the autumn but which peaks in spring. At this time they are most vulnerable to road traffic, which in the past has taken a high toll.


Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución

  • Non-Venomous
  • Scientific: Anguis fragilis (The previous Spanish subspecies Anguis fragilis fragilis is now with the western European populations)
  • English: Slow Worm
  • Spanish: Lución
  • Portuguese: Licranço
  • Galician: Escáncer común
  • Family: Anguidae
  • Distribution: Northern Spain and north and central Portugal, as well as the entire European mainland. Western Europe, northern Europe and western Balcans)

Identification and similar species

The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución is the only truly legless lizard in Spain and Portugal. It can be distinguished from snakes by its eyelids and visible ear openings (features that all snakes lack) and from the Southwest Iberian Worm Lizard (Blanus mariae) by its eyes, these being vestigial and almost invisible in the worm lizard. The Western Three-Toed Skink (Chalcides striatus) is also somewhat similar but on closer inspection will show its small limbs with three toes.

The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución is the only truly legless lizard in Spain and Portugal. It can be distinguished from snakes by its eyelids and visible ear openings
The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución is the only truly legless lizard in Spain and Portugal. It can be distinguished from snakes by its eyelids and visible ear openings

In coloration Anguis fragilis has an overall uniform colour, usually brown, grey or bronze but sometimes red or copper, with the underneath a shade of grey. Males are fairly plain but females often have a vertebral stripe, dark sides and belly. The young are a striking gold or silver with a similar stripe and dark patterning to the female. In addition to normal coloration, both albino and melanistic (very dark or all black) individuals have been found. The scales are smooth. Apart from the variation in coloration there are no known differences among the Iberian populations.

Adult Slow Worms reach about 50 cm, of which more than half may be the tail if unregenerated (i.e. not broken off). However, regenerated tails are quite common in this species, as they frequently “break” and the regenerative process is very slow.

Another easy way to distinguish the Slow Worm from a snake is its rather awkward wriggling way of movement as opposed to the smooth, apparently effortless gliding of a snake.

Habitat and distribution on the Iberian Peninsular

The species is found in northern areas of Spain and Portugal including Catalonia, the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, Castilla y Leon, Galicia and the Pyrenees up to around 2,400 metres. In fact, in terms of habitat, it is very adaptable being found from sea level to high mountain altitudes generally and also in a variety of environments including meadows, areas of undergrowth, railway and even motorway embankments.

Spain Distribution map of the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución
Spain Distribution map of the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución

The above map comes from the excellent website Aves de Extremadura: http://aves-extremadura.blogspot.com/2017/05/el-lucion-anguis-fragilis-en-extremadura.html (In Spanish) The yellow arrows shows the furthest South that a Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución has been recorded.

The common factor seems to be that the ideal environment is damp but not wet and not too sunny, possibly why this species is not found in the south of the Iberian Peninsula.

Slow Worms are reclusive animals, so their habitat is often characterised by plentiful cover in the form of undergrowth, fallen leaves, stones, etc. They often hide beneath rocks or fallen wood, manmade items such as sheet iron or rubber mats also being utilised.The species is diurnal (daytime active), its maximum activity normally taking place 5-10am and 6-9pm in Spain and Portugal. It may also be encountered after a shower of rain, possibly because of the greater possibility of finding gastropod prey.

What does a slow worm eat?

The Slow Worm preys mainly on gastropods (small slugs and snails) a great reason the species should be a welcome visitor to any garden. 🙂 It will also take arthropods and sometimes small reptiles, basically anything that will fit in its mouth.

Breeding and hibernation

In Iberia the Slow Worm emerges from hibernation in March. Courtship and mating take place in April to May, males fighting and wrestling each other. The mating ritual itself may last up to 10 hours. The females give birth to live young (ovoviviparous birth) after 11-13 weeks and in the days leading up to birth, the female can often be seen basking in the sun on a warm road. 5-26 young are born but on average 6-12 is more normal.

In western Europe males breed at the age of 3-4 years, females at 4-5 years. Slow Worms enter hibernation in autumn, often forming communal dens of up to 100 individuals together with salamanders and (in a hibernation truce!) vipers in suitable frost-free places such as holes in the ground or among roots.

These slow and inoffensive reptiles are known for their incredible longevity – 10-15 years in the wild is cited by one authority, another suggests 30 years, and there is a captive record for no less than 54 years.

The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución is the only truly legless lizard in Spain and Portugal. It can be distinguished from snakes by its eyelids and visible ear openings
The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) Lución is the only truly legless lizard in Spain and Portugal. It can be distinguished from snakes by its eyelids and visible ear openings

The Slow Worm appears to be fairly abundant in its range and therefore less endangered by human activity than some other creatures. Unfortunately it is sometimes still mistaken for a snake and may be persecuted as a result. Across its range it has various predators including small carnivores, several birds of prey and snakes, including the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) but probably the most damaging to populations is the domestic cat.


Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta

  • English: Spanish Psammodromus / Sandrunner
  • Scientific: Psammodromus hispanicus hispanicus
  • Spanish: Lagartija cenicienta
  • Portuguese: Lagartixo-do-mato-ibérico
  • Family: Lacertidae
  • Distribution: Iberia, Western and central Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). (Absent from most of north and all of north-west.) The northernmost populations were known in the 1980s from Orense, León, Tarragona, Barcelona and Gerona.
  • Subspecies: Eastern Psammodromus hispanicus edwardsianus – Eastern Spain and mediteranean France. This subspecies differs from P. h. hispanicus in having finer body scaling, larger hind feet and coarser scales on the throat.
Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta
Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) showing head scales

Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta is a small lizard with a total length of about 15cm of which one third is the head and body. It can be distinguished from similar-sized small lacertids by its rather large keeled scales which overlap in a shingle-like manner and its weak collar, which is only visible on the sides. By contrast other small lacertids usually have non-overlapping, non-keeled dorsal scales and/or a definitive collar. The ground colour tends to be brown or ash grey but may also be olive or ochre, with a dorsal pattern of 4-6 longitudinal white or yellowish stripes overlaying transverse black bars, giving it a characteristically “segmented or “humbug”” appearance. However in some populations, notably those of the western subspecies, this pattern may be reduced or absent, and some are simply a complete grey, brown or olive.

Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta
Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta

Habitat

The species is found throughout much of Iberia and the southern coastal areas of France. Its absence from the Pyrenees may be due to its preference for lowland habitat: in the south it is found at up to 1,700m (Sierra de Guadarrama and Sierra de Nevada), but normally lives at much lower altitudes. Dry open spaces with firm or sandy soil, often with a covering of low bushes are the preferred habitat. In places without much vegetative covering such as gravel plains or sand flats the lizards will often move at great speed from one place to another and covering some distance, hence the common name of “Sandrunner”. Like many small lizards the Spanish Psammodromus will take cover within the twiggy base of a plant or burrow beneath its roots. Territories are small, about 25m2.

Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta
Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta

Identification will normally boil down to where the animal is spotted. Populations in Andalucía, Castilla la Mancha, Extremadura and Portugal appear to belong to the western (Spanish) subspecies, those of Murcia, Valencia, Cataluña, Aragón and France to the Eastern subspecies.

(All of the images in this article were taken in Andalucia.)

Like most small lacertids, P. hispanicus will eat small invertebrates and a study of Alicante populations showed that about a quarter of its prey was spiders, the rest being made up of varied insects.

Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta
Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta

Breeding

In the mating season Psammodromus make squeaking calls, and on male lizards the flanks turn green. The mating process itself is fairly short, often a minute. Gravid females are seen from April through July. A clutch of 2-6 eggs is laid, usually twice per year. Incubation takes 48 days and the young appear at the beginning of June or the end of July or beginning of August, measuring about 5½ cm in total length. Sexual maturity is reached rapidly, in 8-9 months, as in common with many small lacertid species, Psammodromus hispanicus is not long-lived, 2-3 years being the norm although a few may exceed this.

A study of French (Eastern) populations showed that yearly activity ran between February and September-October. This may well apply to many of the Iberian populations, although it is reasonable to suppose that those in the south may be active most if not all of the year.

Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta
Spanish Psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus) Lagartija cenicienta

Owing to its small size this lizard has escaped direct predation by man, although obviously habitat loss will have had an indirect impact. Notes on the similar-sized Psammodromus blanci from North Africa indicated that it was preyed on by the snakes Malpolon monspessulanus and Macroprotodon cucullatus (both also found in Spain) and the lizard Lacerta [Timon] pater (a close relative of Timon lepidus which is found in Spain), so it would seem at least plausible that these snakes and Timon lepidus would be possible predators of Psammodromus hispanicus.



Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.