Category Archives: Reptiles and Amphibians of Spain

Ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus (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. There are now two (formerly three) recognised subspecies as the subspecies T. nevadensis has been elevated to species level.
  • 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 oteroi is endemic to the island of Sálvora, in Galicia.
  • Timon nevadensis – Declared a species recently and present in South-Eastern Spain (Sierra Nevada area). They are duller in colour; their head also seems more pointed.
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.

Lacerta (Timon) lepida – Lagarto ocelado - Large male
Lacerta (Timon) lepida – Lagarto ocelado – Large male

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!


The Grazalema Guide

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Grass snake – Natrix natrix – Culebra de Collar

  • English: (Three species) Grass snake, Barred Grass snake, Mediterranean Grass Necklace Snake
  • Spanish: (Three species) Culebra de Collar, Culebra de Collar Europea, Culebra de collar mediterránea
  • Scientific name: (three species in Iberia) 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. As recently as 2017, genetic work has found that natrix has more than one species present in the Iberian peninsular.

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 from the common grass snake, you find this snake close to water sources helping to identify it by its habitat in the south of Spain. (It is not very abundant in any part of its distribution area). There is a good article about this species on the website of the Great Malaga Path: https://www.malaga.es/en/turismo/naturaleza/lis_cd-13130/culebra-de-collar-mediterranea-natrix-astreptophora-natrix-natrix-gran-senda-de-malaga

Natrix astreptophora
Natrix astreptophora (photo Gran Senda de Malaga)

Identifying the differences in the three species in the field is near impossible unless you have excellent photographs or have a long time to study the specimen. But, for the two newer species, geographic position helps to rule in or out.

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.

https://grazalemaguide.com/

Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda

  • Venomous (Back fangs and harmless to humans).
  • English: Montpellier Snake.
  • Scientific: Malpolon monspessulanus (Hermann 1804).
  • Castilian: Culebra bastarda.
  • Catalan: Serp-verda.
  • Portuguese: Cobra-rateira.
  • Family: Colubridae.
  • Distribution: Iberia (excluding parts of north), Southern France and selected areas within the Mediterranean basin area.

The Montpellier Snake can reach up to an overall length of 240cm although they average at less than 200cm and this species has the ability to emit a loud and persistent hiss if threatened.

Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda3
Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda Young snake reaering up “cobra” like

One striking feature of its narrow head is its aggressive looking face. This is created by a very pronounced “eye-brow” over a large eye, sometimes further accentuated by a white mark. The eye can sometimes appear orange/red.

They are terrestrial, very agile and active during the day though they can also become crepuscular during the heat of summer.

The colouration of the adults is usually a uniform grey, olive, greenish, blackish or red / brown. There may also be dark or light spots. The belly is often a yellowish shade and blotched with dark markings. The juveniles may be the same as the adult in colour otherwise they have fine dark spots along their flanks and larger irregular marks along the back.

If disturbed or cornered they can raise their heads in a threatening manner as well as hissing, flattening out their neck, so appearing very aggressive. Receiving a venomous bite is very unlikely unless you are handling this snake as the fangs are at the very back of the top jaw whereby it has to have a very good grip of its prey for them to be effective The venom can create symptoms that pass after a few hours including numbness, stiffness, swelling and possibly fever.

Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda2
Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda Juvenile caught in a glass.

They are incredibly adaptable in their habitat type from coastal sand dunes and salt-marshes to mountains of 2,150m altitude. Their preference is for sandy or rocky open terrain with adequate plant cover and rock or log piles for refuge. They may however be seen in agricultural areas, river banks and woodland perimeters.

Part of their ability to live in such a variation of eco-systems is their wide variety of prey items. They will eat mainly lizards (small and even Ocellated, which get quite large), geckos but also small birds, chicks of ground nesting birds, rats, mice, small rabbits and other snakes. Their prey is killed by venom from fangs situated at the back of the jaw, meaning that they need a good grip before this can be effective. The young eat invertebrates.

Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda4
Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) Culebra bastarda See the white eyestripe?

Breeding takes place between April and June after emerging from hibernation, with males often battling over a mate. Approximately one month later the females lays between 4 to 14 eggs (sometimes up to 20). These may be placed in split tree trunks, under rocks, under dead leaves or in unused burrows of rabbit or bee-eater. They also sometimes use communal areas to deposit their eggs. After about 2 months the hatchlings appear and are 20-36cm in length. They reach sexual maturity at between 3 to 5 years of age.

The males can live for 25 years in the wild whereas the female is shorter lived, perhaps to 15 years.

Similar species: The uniform colouring and size may be taken for a Grass Snake but the details of the face are very distinctive.


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.

https://grazalemaguide.com/

Southern Smooth Snake (Coronella girondica) Culebra Lisa Meridional

  • Non-venomous
  • English: Southern smooth snake.
  • Scientific: Coronella girondica (Daudin 1803).
  • Castilian: Culebra Lisa Meridional.
  • Catalan: Serp llisa meridional.
  • Portuguese: Cobra bordalesa.
  • Family: Colubridae.
  • Distribution: Iberia and much of Mediterranean basin area.

The Southern Smooth Snake is a slim, elegant snake with a rounded body and an average length of around 60cm, some reaching just under a metre. If warm enough then they are active between March and November. They are fairly slow moving and not good at climbing.

Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional –2
Southern smooth snake – Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional Image shows the two dark stipes below the head.

There is a dark strike from their neck to the rear corner of the eye. The eye itself has an orange / red ring around a circular black pupil. The body colour can vary between grey / brown to ochre with darker bands or blotches crossing the back in a non-uniform way. The underside is a creamy or orangey yellow with a haphazard checkered pattern of dark scales. This colouration is brightest in young ones.

They may be found in dry open scrub lands or rocky hillsides, hedgerows and open woods or around older cultivated trees. They will hide in old vegetation, under rocks and in stone walls. In warm southern areas they can be found in mountain regions but in cooler areas are more lightly to be below 1000m. This species of snake is mainly active in the evenings and at night, although they may be active during the day in wet weather, they are very secretive.

Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional –1
Southern smooth snake – Coronella girondica – Culebra Lisa Meridional – Note the similarity to a ladder snake?

They generally eat small lizards, with skinks, geckos, smaller snakes and occasionally mammals also taken, young ones eat insects. Most of their prey is crushed by constriction and is swallowed head first.

Coupling takes place in spring with between 4 to 16 eggs being produced during the summer, these take 6 to 9 weeks to hatch, appearing in late August or September. The young tend to be active during the day and only measure 10 to 20cm.

The average life span for Coronella girondica is around 15 years. They reach sexual maturity when they are 4 years old.

Similar species

  • Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) Lacks the strongly patterned and colourful underside.
  • False Smooth Snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus) Often has a bold dark collar.
  • Young Ladder Snake (Elaphe scalaris) Has a more bold and regular ladder pattern on back.

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.

https://grazalemaguide.com/