REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS

  

Despite the threat from humans, reptiles and amphibians do thrive quite well in the south Mediterranean. Most of Crete's countryside is well looked after and the natural habitat remains intact. The very high mountainous regions provide the perfect environment for many reptiles.

 

For those of you who are terrified that you may encounter a snake when walking in these areas, I would like to give you the assurance that even if you do a lot of walking on your holidays you are highly unlikely to see one. Unless you specifically go looking, if course!

Unfortunately, most people coming across snakes try to kill them rather than leaving them well alone. The snakes generally do no harm and can even help by controlling rodent pest populations. Crete has only four species of snake all are completely safe.  Even so, because of the dislike, fear and ignorance many have for these creatures, lots are needlessly slaughtered each year. The Leopard snake is said to be the most beautiful of all European snakes, and common throughout many low-lying areas of the island, has rather unfortunately, been massacred more than it should have been. People are the greatest threat to most of Crete's reptiles and amphibians and many inhabitants of the island kill them. This handsome reptile does have a V-shaped marking behind its head, leading to confusion and mistaken identity as being a deadly adder.  Add to this the fact that its local Greek name is 'Ochendra'  similar to the general name given to vipers, Ochia. Like all Cretan snakes, the leopard snake rarely gets much above one metre in length and is generally found in sunny areas with some cover, such as a dry-stone walls. 

 

Lizards on the other hand are very common, and you probably will see these and Geckoes running about the place. Of all the small lizards, Balkan Wall Lizard are the most common. Both the Green Toad and the Tree Frog, can be found quite close to highly populated areas. Although these species are very versatile and can also live in low scrubland areas, the Green Tree Frog in particular prefers tall vegetation.

 

Cars are another big problem for the reptiles and amphibians in Crete. As with every country in the world there are snakes on this island, you will be very unlikely to come across any on your travels, unless you are looking for them - but, bear in mind the age old saying, (which is very true) they are as frightened of you as you are of them! April and May, after their winter hibernation, is the most likeliest time to see them, more often than not dead on the road. This is because today's mode of transport is much faster than they are. In the daytime they are normally either asleep or hiding in the rocks. You will see them mainly early morning looking for breakfast and late evening going out to dinner!
 
Some people actually try to run over snakes, which is particularly sad. If you come across any of Crete's interesting reptiles and amphibians while you are on holiday you should count yourself extremely lucky, respect that they have a right to be there, and for the benefit of all it is probably best that you enjoy them from a distance.

 

Snake killing is not a sport. They are a protected species and therefore you are breaking the law.

  

SNAKES OF CRETE
(Colubridae)

 

It would appear that sun-facing mountainous regions are most perfect for snakes. However it is vital that heather and other low-land bushes occupy the area. This is so that the snakes can seek cover and shelter from the sun, or rain. It is not only the Cat Snake that inhabit this terrain, other Reptiles including other snakes make their homes here. Cat Snakes need a good source of food, they get this from the lizard populations that are found in such habitats. These lizards are normally Lacertids rather than Geckos and Skinks. This habitat is further preferred if the mountain region is facing the sun, making it easier for the snakes to bask and absorb the heat that they require.

 

EUROPEAN CAT SNAKE
(Telescopus fallax)

 

The Cat Snake is rear-fanged and it’s bite cannot kill, however they are very aggressive and bites cause nausea and bad swelling. It can and does, however, use the grooved  fangs at the back of its upper jaw to inject sufficient venom to kill its principal prey. It easily kills its prey of sleeping lizards that it catches at night as the Cat Snake is nocturnal. To do this, the Cat Snake injects a sufficient amount of venom into its prey and will quite happily let its prey run away and die. 
 

The snake will just follow and find its prey by tasting the air around it and finding the path its dying prey took. It will then swallow the dead or paralysed prey whole, and headfirst. The coloration of the Cat Snake is dark grey with many large dark blotches along the body. The best feature to identify the snake by is the larger black blotch just behind the head. It grows to a maximum 80cm, the body is very thin and slender and the head exceeds the breadth of the body. The Cat Snake can be found in lowlands and in very high mountainous regions. Here it occupies rocky, dry areas and even scrub. It is often found under large rocks. Juvenile Cat Snakes can be mistaken for Vipers which also have vertical cat-like pupils.

 

However, it can not be that dangerous as in Kefalonia on the 15th August every year a bizarre ceremony occurs involving this species of snake. On this day many small (I might add) Cat Snakes visit the villages of Arginia and Markopolo in the south of the island are handled by the local people who see them as a sign of good fortune. This is strange as the European Cat Snake will always attempt to bite in normal circumstances if handled. The venom is delivered from the fangs positioned at the back of the mouth. The venom is not dangerous to humans but can cause considerable pain and possible nausea.  However the venom is not injected as quickly and violently as the Montpellier Snake which also shares the same regions, and therefore is not as dangerous to humans.

 

LEOPARD SNAKE
(Elaphe Situala)

 

This is a very beautiful snake and without a doubt the most attractive of any snake on Crete, if not the whole of Europe. With a slender body and a narrow head, the background colour is cream and the markings are brown, reddish-brown or dark red. Two forms sometimes occur together: one has a series of dark-edged blotches down the back and the other has a pair of stripes. This species grows to a maximum of 1metre in length. Their habitat mainly consists of rocky hillsides, dry stone walls, cultivated fields etc.  They are also very placid and rarely bite when handled, however occasional individuals may be more inclined to bite than others. Important to bare in mind that it is quite rare across most of its range and therefore is protected in many countries.
   

They do not, however, object to a swim. Should you come across one, it may well rattle its tail in an attempt to scare you off and it is capable of striking and delivering a nip to the fingers of those who try to pick it up. Although the leopard snake does eat birds and small lizards, its diet consists mainly of rodents and their young, as already stated a natural control which is important and far preferable, than laying out poison!

 

BALKAN WHIP SNAKE
(Coluber Gemonesis)

 

Dendrogallia in Greek, this is probably the southern Mediterranean’s most common species of snake, especially near the coast. This whip snake is another which does us a favour by preying largely on rodents, although it will also take birds, lizards and large insects.  It prefers dry areas but can turn up near marshes and pools. The whip snake is capable of biting fiercely if threatened, although they are normally quite docile creatures and, of course, the bite itself is non-venomous.
 

The colouration for this species is normally grey-brown or sometimes completely grey.  The front of the body is covered with dark spots which further down the body turn into slight streaks. The underside of the body is yellow or occasionally lighter yellow or white. The maximum length of growth is 1metre, however most times it does not reach this length. Another way to identify the Balkan Whip Snake is by its small head in relation to size and body. This snake can be found in a variety of different habitats. It favours scrub-covered places, mostly on sun-facing hillsides and mountainous regions. Forest and wooded clearings are also suitable, depending on how much sun penetration there is in the particular area.

 

There is no doubt that the Balkan Whip Snake is the species of snake that you are most likely to come across on the island. Like most other Whip Snakes it is quite alert and fast-moving, so will try to avoid detection by either freezing or darting away suddenly. If caught the Whip Snake will most probably hiss and may possibly bite. 

 

DICE SNAKE
(Natrix Tessellate)

 

Its Greek name is Nerofido, meaning Water Snake. It is a close relative of the British Grass snake (Natrix natrix). Most of its time it's hunting underwater (fresh or salt) it's main diet is fish, albeit, frogs and toads will do nicely! 
Females are bigger than males, maximum size is between 1 and 1.3 metres long. The colour may vary from greyish green to brownish or almost black with spots on its back. The belly is sometimes vividly coloured either yellow or orange with black spots, similar to a dice, hence its name.
This snake will rarely bite but if disturbed the dice snake can emit a fluid with a most nauseating smell! Another defence mechanism is 'playing dead', so be careful.

 

BALKAN WALL LIZARD
(Podarcis Taurica)

 

The Balkan Wall Lizard is beautifully patterned and coloured variegated lizard. This lizard has a small head with a long very narrow tail. The total body length of this lizard is no more than 8cm maximum. The range of this lizard is throughout most of the Balkan peninsula and Hungary as well as Romania. As its name suggests it is often encountered on walls and cliffs. However it can also be found in grassy areas and low scrub land. The much preferred prey of the Balkan wall lizard are small insects.
 

It is also highly regarded as one of the most attractive looking lizards in southern Europe. It can be identified also by the several rows of black patches passing along its whole body. As well as the normally lighter coloured underside compared to top coloration.

  

BALKAN GREEN LIZARD
(Lacerta Trilineata)

 

This is one of the largest species of European lizard, they can grow to an impressive 16cm in length. The males have a very bright green coloured body and head, the head is more of a blue green than the rest of the body. The females have a yellowish throat with several long yellow or white coloured streaks down the body, this is also the case with juveniles of both male and female. This species is mostly found on Mediterranean islands. Its food consists of small vertebrates and various species of insect. The habitat of the Balkan Green Lizard is mainly scrub with trees so they can quickly ascend them if danger is present. This species is also believed to not hibernate in the south of its range such as the Greek islands. However in the north of its range it hibernates from November to March.

 

THE MEDITERRANEAN CHAMELEON
(Chamaeleo Chamaeleon)

 

The Mediterranean Chameleon inhabits semi-deserts of the southern Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, Crete, and Middle East. As with other chameleons, its body is flattened, its eyes move independently. The chameleon is a predator and it shoots out a long sticky tongue to grasp its small insect prey. It moves very slowly towards it without making its presence unknown with the aid of its camouflage. Individuals can change colour to match their surroundings or to indicate fear, sexual receptiveness, or aggression. Males defend territories and occasionally fight with each other. The feet are adapted for tree climbing, with grasping toes that point both backward and forward. 
 

This particular species sometimes descends to the ground to escape high temperatures. Adults grow to 28 centimetres (11 inches). Chameleons belong to the lizard family although they look rather different from the common lizard. Their body has adapted to their way of living, in trees. The legs have five digits. Three digits on each leg oppose the other two digits. This enables the animal to get a firm grip on the branches while moving. The tail also aids in this process by curling round the twigs providing a sort of anchorage.

In its native habitat, the chameleon rarely descends from the trees, which offer it protection. The only time it leaves the tree, is when the female is ready to lay her eggs which she does under the loose soil below the tree. 

 

MOORISH GECKO
(Tarentola Mauritanica)

 

The Moorish Gecko is Europe’s largest species of Gecko, it is also known as the Wall Gecko. The range of this Gecko extends from Iberia through the Balkans and into north Africa via Morocco and Egypt. They spend most of their time living on walls, even in houses! They are nocturnal and can be found in groups around night lights catching moths and other insects. The males make a clicking sound. This is quite a common sight throughout the range of the European Moorish Gecko. As moths are attracted to these lights, so their predators the Geckos are never too far behind.
 

 

TURKISH GECKO
(Hermidactylus Turcicus)

 

This Gecko is slightly smaller than the Moorish Gecko, but shares many of its habits. The Turkish Gecko is nocturnal and prefers to live most of its life on walls. Some individuals may also choose to bask during the day when they are supposed to be sleeping. These Geckos have a very pink coloration and only the males make a clicking noise. They provide a good meal for many different types of animal.

 

CRETAN WATER FROG
(Rana Cretensis)

 
Endemic to the island. Its natural habitats are Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation, rivers, intermittent rivers, swampland, freshwater lakes, and freshwater marshes. It is threatened by habitat loss through the over extraction of water for agriculture and other uses.
Now, thanks to a grant from the European Union, the Potamoi Dam, south of Rethymnon, will have a dramatic effect on the local wild life by generating the largest manmade lake in Crete.

 

CRETAN GREEN TOAD
(Bufo Viridis)

 

The Green Toad is the one of Europe’s most well known amphibians. It's also Europe’s largest toad species, one larger species being the Common Toad (Bufo bufo) found across Europe. The Green Toad is a largely built amphibian with a very large head. The coloration green, dark olive. The Toads underside is light green, the two large glands behind the head secrete an irritating substance to put off a predator. It is also covered with tubercles along the back and flanks of the body. It can be found sheltering under logs and rocks all year long and it only takes a little rain to bring it out. During spring evenings, its call takes on an eerie tone and it can be quite unnerving. 

The Green toad grows to a maximum of 12cm, the males about 8-10cm. Their constant croaking can be heard at night, their tadpoles metamorphose in June and July mostly. The Toads that live near ponds and streams and lakes spending most of the daytime under rocks. The Green Toad does however have a large selection of predators but the secretion does defend it most times.

Some biologists consider the DNA of the Cretan green toad to be sufficiently different to that of mainland toads that it should be considered a distinct sub-species in its own right.

 
REPTILES

Common Name

Scientific Name

European Cat snake    Telescopus fallax  
The Leopard snake Elphe situla  
Balkan Whip Snake Coluber gemonesis
Dice Grass Snake Natrix Tessellate
Cretan Lizard Podarcis cretensis
Erhard's Wall Lizard Podarcis erhardii
Common Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis
Balkan green lizard   Lacerta trilineata  
Ocellated Skink  Chalcides occelatus 
Kotschy's Gecko Cyrtopodion kotschyi (Mediodactylus kotschyi)
Moorish Gecko  Tarentola mauritanica
Turkish Gecko  Hermidactylus turcicus
Hermann’s Tortoise   Testudo hermanni  
Balkan Terrapin, Striped necked Terrapin  Mauremys rivulata
   
AMPHIBIANS
Cretan Water Frog Rana cretensis
European Common Toad Bufo-Bufo  
Cretan Tree Frog Hyla cretensis
Marsh Frog Rana ridibunda 
Cretan Green Toad Bufo-viridis
The Mediterranean chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon
 

 

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