Kastellorizo & Nisyros, 12.-21.05.2018

The edge of Europe – from a biological perspective, the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Nisyros are part of Asia Minor: Located only a few kilometers south of the Lycian Coast, Kastellorizo is populated by numerous species of the Herpetofauna from Southern Turkey. In contrast to this, Nisyros is a– in geological dimensions – young volcano island close to the Mid Aegean Trench. Two highly interesting travel destinations!

  • Linosa, 12.-17.06.2018

    Linosa, 12.-17.06.2018

    The Robinson Crusoe Project

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  • Kastellorizo & Nisyros, 12.-21.05.2018

    Kastellorizo & Nisyros, 12.-21.05.2018

    At the edge of Europe (and beyond)

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  • Milos & Serifos, 14. – 21.04.2018

    Milos & Serifos, 14. – 21.04.2018

    Spring trip to the Western Cyclades

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  • Southeastern Spain, 10.2016 – 11.2017

    Southeastern Spain, 10.2016 – 11.2017

    Betic lizards – a photo documentation

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  • Northwestern Spain, 16.-23.9.2017

    Northwestern Spain, 16.-23.9.2017

    Reptile Rallye on the Iberian Peninsula

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  • Ionian Islands, 25.5.-5.6.2017

    Ionian Islands, 25.5.-5.6.2017

    Cruising through Ulysses’ homeland

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  • Portugal, 14. – 21.4.2017

    Portugal, 14. – 21.4.2017

    Lizard safari at the Atlantic coast

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  • Rhodos & Kastellorizo, 27.3. – 2.4.2017

    Rhodos & Kastellorizo, 27.3. – 2.4.2017

    Season Opening 2017

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  • Pyrenees, 2008 - 2016

    Pyrenees, 2008 - 2016

    Searching for Pyrenean lizards - third time's a charm!

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  • Sicily & Aeolian Islands, 26.5. – 6.6.2016

    Sicily & Aeolian Islands, 26.5. – 6.6.2016

    Mission Volcano! Smoking mountains and rare reptiles

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  • Astypalaia & Naxos, 25.3.-3.4.2016

    Astypalaia & Naxos, 25.3.-3.4.2016

    Hellas reloaded – Back in Europe’s biodiversity lab

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  • Spain, 29.8.-11.9.2015

    Spain, 29.8.-11.9.2015

    Biodiversity on the south-eastern tangent

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  • Montenegro, 2. – 11.7.2015

    Montenegro, 2. – 11.7.2015

    Lizard Safari in the mountains of Montenegro

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  •  Malta, 3. – 6.4.2015

    Malta, 3. – 6.4.2015

    The exclusive Podarcis filfolensis Home Story!

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  • Oman, 6.–15.3.2015

    Oman, 6.–15.3.2015

    Adventures in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula

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  • Central Spain, 29.8. - 14.9.2014

    Central Spain, 29.8. - 14.9.2014

    14 days in the heat of Castile

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  • Lefkada, Kefalonia & Akarnania, 24.5. - 3.6.2014

    Lefkada, Kefalonia & Akarnania, 24.5. - 3.6.2014

    Reptile adventures in Western Greece

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  • Mallorca / Alicante - 15.-23.03.2014

    Mallorca / Alicante - 15.-23.03.2014

    2014 Season Kick-off with 16 reptile species

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  • Corsica, 07.-17.09.2013

    Corsica, 07.-17.09.2013

    Mountains, sea and rock lizards

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  • Portugal, 13. - 20.07.2013

    Portugal, 13. - 20.07.2013

    Lizard hunting in Central Portugal

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  • Romania, 24.05. - 03.06.2013

    Romania, 24.05. - 03.06.2013

    Herping adventures from the Black Sea coast to the Iron Gate

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  • Menorca, 17. - 24.03.2013

    Menorca, 17. - 24.03.2013

    Visiting the Balearic lizards

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  • Peloponnese, 20. - 27.10.2012

    Peloponnese, 20. - 27.10.2012

    Autumn trip on Peloponnese

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  • Montenegro, 27.07. - 04.08.2012

    Montenegro, 27.07. - 04.08.2012

    Summer trip in the mountains of Montenegro

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  • Skyros & Evia, 26.05. - 04.06.2012

    Skyros & Evia, 26.05. - 04.06.2012

    Our search for the legendary giant lizards...

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  • Crete, 06. - 13.04.2012

    Crete, 06. - 13.04.2012

    Searching for flowers and lizards on Crete...

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  • Andalucia, 10. - 18.03.2012

    Andalucia, 10. - 18.03.2012

    A hot week full of herping highlights in Southwestern Andalucia

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  • Northern Spain, 02. - 13.09.2011

    Northern Spain, 02. - 13.09.2011

    Herpetological trip to the northwest of Spain: the mountains west of Leon, the Atlantic coast south of A Coruña and the Picos de Europa.

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  • Aegean Islands, 28.05. - 13.06.2011

    Aegean Islands, 28.05. - 13.06.2011

    Five islands in two weeks: Kythira, Pori, Milos, Kimolos and Sifnos

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  • Rhodos & Kastellorizo, 12. - 19.03.2011

    Rhodos & Kastellorizo, 12. - 19.03.2011

    Trip to the easternmost island of Greece...

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  • Central spain, 25.09. - 03.10.2010

    Central spain, 25.09. - 03.10.2010

    Iberolacertas within Sierra de Gredos, Pena de Francia and Sierra de Guadarrama

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  • Alps, 03. -17.07.2010

    Alps, 03. -17.07.2010

    Our first trip to the Alps led us to the Allgäu area, the Julian Alps and Carinthia

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  • Northern Peloponnese, 3.-11.4.2010

    Northern Peloponnese, 3.-11.4.2010

    Four Podarcis species in one area!

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  • Northern Greece, 01. - 15. 06.2009

    Northern Greece, 01. - 15. 06.2009

    Great trip to the Pindos mountains...

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  • Sicily, 28.03. - 04.04.2009

    Sicily, 28.03. - 04.04.2009

    Orchid trip to eastern Sicily

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  • Spain, November 2008 / February 2009

    Spain, November 2008 / February 2009

    Lizards in the Alicante Province

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  • Samos, September 2008 / 2009

    Samos, September 2008 / 2009

    Chamaeleons, Trachylepis and beautiful beaches...

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  • Eifel region

    Eifel region

    Our local "playground": botanical highlights, meadows with numerous butterflies and some herpetofauna...

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  • Our destinations

    The journey via Rhodes

    Kastellorizo and Nisyros are two rather remote islands – visiting both within one week is somehow logistically challenging. To get there, we chose Rhodes as a starting point. From here, you can take the aircraft (or a ferry) to Kastellorizo. Furthermore, there is also a ferry connecting Rhodes with Nisyros. The downside of this travel schedule: three overnight stays on Rhodes – one in the beginning, one during our journey from Kastellorizo to Nisyros and one in the end of the trip. Compared to the calm and laid-back atmosphere on the small islands, Rhodes was somehow uninspiring: mass tourism, habitat destruction, hustle and bustle… As we also had visited Rhodes before, we weren’t too motivated in herping. Consequently, Stellagama stellio (Starred Agama) and Anatololacerta pelasgiana (Pelasgian Rock Lizard) were the only species seen.

  • Stellagama stellio on Rhodes

  • Anatololacerta pelasgiana in its terra typica, the city walls of Rhodes old town

  • Anatololacerta pelasgiana with contrasting pattern

    Part 1: Kastellorizo

    In former years we had visited Kastellorizo in early spring. Now, in mid-May, there were already some tourists on the island. However, there are hardly any cars on this calm island of only 9 square kilometers and the atmosphere was still laid-back. With its Venetian houses surrounding the harbor, with wooded hills behind and steep limestone rocks, this island is a Mediterranean pearl. Furthermore, the water temperature was already agreeable for swimming: perfect conditions for our stay!

    Compared to our previous visits, the island was dry and hot and we also found other herp species than in early spring: We only found very few specimens of Ablepharus anatolicus (Snake-eyed Skink) and Ophiomorus kardesi (Limbless Skink) this time. However, Heremites auratus (Levant skink) was very abundant this time – a species we didn’t encounter at all in early spring. This demonstrates that herpetological observations strongly depend on the season.

  • Scenic Kastellorizo

  • Lyciasalamandra luschani (Lycian Salamander): In May, these animals are strongly nocturnal. However, we still encountered this female after sunrise.

  • Heremites auratus was highly abundant this time – these skinks seem to occupy the ecological niche of Lacertids on Kastellorizo. It is quite surprising that the occurrence of this species on the island was first reported in 2005 by PAYSANT! These skinks, which are rather shy in other areas, were easy to photograph on Kastellorizo: This and the following pictures show different specimens in order to demonstrate the abundance of this species.

  • Heremites auratus #2

  • Heremites auratus #3

  • Heremites auratus #4

  • Heremites auratus #5

  • Heremites auratus #6

  • Mediodactylus danilewskii: This former subspecies of Mediodactylus kotschyi (Kotschy’s Gecko) has recently been put into species rank by KOTSAKIOZI et al. (2018). Regarding external characteristics both species look very similar. However, there seem to be significant differences: In areas like the Cyclades or Peloponnese, Mediodactylus kotschyi is often highly abundant and can frequently be seen basking together with Lacertids on rocks or dry stone walls. In contrast to this, southeastern Aegean Mediodactylus seems to be much rarer and competitively weak. Moreover, we never found these geckoes on Kastellorizo in full sun. The specimen on the picture was photographed in-situ and it consequently avoided sun and rested in the shade of a wall. (This resembles to the situation on Rhodes: There, Mediodactylus only occurs on satellite islets – like Prasonisi – but lacks on the main island. We also found these geckoes only under stones there, but not active by day in full sun).

  • Blanus strauchi (Anatolian Worm Lizard)

  • Xerotyphlops vermicularis (Worm Snake)

  • Scenic Kastellorizo #2

  • Scenic Kastellorizo #3

  • Hemidactylus turcicus (Turkish Gecko) at night at the hotel

  • Only a few kilometers to the Turkish mainland

    [...]

  • Our first record of Anatololacerta sp. on Kastellorizo was in 2011. We also encountered this species in 2018.

  • Platyceps najadum (Dahl’s whip snake) is widespread in the eastern Mediterranean. However, we didn’t get decent pictures of this species before.

  • Stellagama stellio

  • The ferry from Rhodes is almost too big for Kastellorizo port...

  • Leaving Kastellorizo: Olympic Air to bring us back to Rhodes.

    Part 2: Nisyros

    Nisyros, together with Santorini, Milos and Methana is part of the south Aegean volcanic arc, a chain of active volcanos in the southern Aegean. On Nisyros, volcanic activity is striking: The center of the island consists of a caldera with an impressive crater landscape inside. The volcano still dominates life on the island – once a day, things are getting busy: A ferry brings visitors from Kos to Nisyros; they are carried to the crater with busses; the crowd gets out of the busses to admire the volcano. Most of them do not get beyond the take away at the entrance of the visitors center. After one hour they disappear and the island becomes a silent place, again. Apart from this, it seems that this island has been overlooked by mass tourism. Outside of the main village Mandraki, which is focused on the mentioned day trippers, there is very few touristic infrastructure on this lonely island.

    We travelled to Nisyros by ferry from Rhodes, with stop-overs on Chalki and Tilos, two dry and karstic limestone islands. In contrast to these, Nisyros looks quite different: When approaching the island by boat it appears rather green. Actually, it has rich vegetation with fern, oak trees and olive groves. The volcano soil seems to be a better water storage than limestone.

    A volcano island with rich vegetation – sounds like perfect conditions for a second “Galapagos“, where endemic species can develop, similar to the situation on e.g. Milos. However, Nisyros is just too young: If geologists are right, the whole island emerged less than 150 k years ago – a rather short period for the development of new species. Therefore, the interesting question on Nisyros is which species managed to populate the island since its genesis. Immigration is possible from other Aegean Islands as well as from the Turkish mainland.

    There seems to exist very few herpetological literature about the island. However, the publication of CATTANEO (2006) turned out rather informative. He found nine reptile species on the island: Hemidactylus turcicus, Stellagama stellio, Blanus strauchi, Anatololacerta pelasgiana, Ophisops elegans (Snake-eyed Lizard), Ablepharus kitaibelii, Chalcides ocellatus (Ocellated Skink), Dolichophis caspius (Caspian Whip Snake) and Platyceps najadum – We encountered most of the mentioned species, but we didn’t find Chalcides ocellatus and Platyceps najadum. Hence, the island shows a typical Asia Minor species range. Actually, it is located east of the Mid Aegean Trench and therefore belongs to Asia (from a biological perspective).

  • Journey to Nysiros: stop-over at the karstic island of Chalki…

  • …passing Tilos…

  • …the “green“ island of Nisyros

  • The island is vegetated with oak and olive trees.

  • Stellagama stellio is the most abundant reptile on the island

  • Well-fed Stellagama stellio

  • Ophisops elegans: a widespread species on Nisyros but rather secretive in summer

  • The caldera of Nisyros

  • We were surprised to find Eryx jaculus (Javelin Sand Boa) – the occurrence of this species on the island hasn’t been published so far.

  • Habitat of Eryx jaculus

  • Blanus strauchi

  • Oak forest on Nisyros

  • The crater area on Nisyros

  • At the volcano

  • At the volcano

  • Volcano landscape

  • The famous Stefanos Crater: main attraction of the island

  • Similar to some Canary Islands, Nisyros has dark beaches, due to the volcano soil.

    Anatololacerta pelasgiana on Nisyros

    On Rhodes, Anatololacerta pelasgiana is a common species which occupies a wide range of habitats: rocks, dry stone walls as well as gardens. As Nisyros has a lot of suitable habitats, we expected this species to be quite abundant here.

    However, searching for this species turned out quite tricky: EISELT & SCHMIDTLER (1986) give a rather vague location (“in the volcano crater”) for this species. CATTANEO (2006) mentions the village Emporio. There, we searched twice but didn’t find any Anatololacerta. A travel blog finally provided the decisive hint: It showed a picture of Anatololacerta pelasgiana with the reference “Parletia” – We found out that “Parletia” is a rock formation in the southeastern part of the caldera. Exactly there, we finally came across these lizards. Remarkably, they only were encountered on big rock formations but they seem to avoid the omnipresent dry stone walls. Compared to Rhodes, this species seems to have quite narrow habitat preferences on Nisyros.

    The population size on Nisyros can hardly be estimated. Although it seems to be rather rare in the areas we visited, additional populations could presumably occur in the rocky peak areas of the Profitis Ilias Mountain which we didn’t visit during our stay. Overall, our observations are just some “snapshots”; maybe this species is more abundant during early spring.

  • Somewhere here should be Anatololacerta pelasgiana!

  • Anatololacerta pelasgiana (male)

  • We found Anatololacerta pelasgiana on such big rocks - note the fern in front!

  • Anatololacerta pelasgiana (male)

  • Anatololacerta pelasgiana (female)

  • View to Profitis Ilias peak: potential habitat for Anatololacerta pelasgiana

    Towards the Mid Aegean Trench

    The uninhabited volcano islands of Pergousa and Pachia are located about 5 km west of Nisyros, just at the Mid Aegean Trench – or more precisely: slightly east of it. Both islands have populations of Podarcis erhardii (Aegean Wall Lizard) which are quite remarkable:

    1. It is the only case of a reptile species reported so far which has crossed the Mid Aegean Trench from west to east – usually, the MAT acts as a natural barrier which separates the European from the Asia Minor herpetofauna (LYMBERAKIS, 2010).
    2. It is somehow strange that Podarcis erhardii managed to populate the small islets of Pergousa and Pachia but not the bigger nearby island of Nisyros.
    3. Furthermore, it is surprising that the Pachia lizards seem to be closely related to the ones on Levitha Island, 70 km from Pachia (LYMBERAKIS, 2008). Apparently, the colonization started from there – and not from the much closer islands of Syrna or Astypalea.

    The populations on Pachia and Pergousa haven’t been referred to any subspecies so far. But they probably belong to the group of the eastern Aegean deep water islands (like e.g. Astypalea). No pictures of these lizards have been publicly available before – a job for us! After a while we found a skipper who was willing to bring us to the islands. First, we visited Pergousa, a flat and easy accessible island, afterwards we went to Pachia, a steep island with rocky cliffs.

    On Pergousa, Podarcis erhardii was abundant but extremely shy. Even in the early morning the fleeing distance was very high. The lizards were hectically running in between the thorny bushes – they seem to be rather ground-dwelling. Taking pictures of these critters was quite challenging.

    Pachia has the easternmost population of Podarcis erhardii. Also here, this species seems to be ground-dwelling. However, we were running out of time and our skipper became inpatient (and also the local colony of seagulls wasn’t very happy about our presence). Hence, our visit on this island was very short.

    The lizards on these islands are an impressive example for the success story of Podarcis erhardii which seems to be able to populate even the most remote islet in the Aegean.

  • A new adventure!

  • Pergousa Island

  • Podarcis erhardii (female)

  • Podarcis erhardii (male)

  • Podarcis erhardii (female)

  • Podarcis erhardii (green-backed male)

  • View from Pergousa to Pachia (center) and Nisyros (left)

  • The cliffs of Pachia

  • Podarcis erhardii on Pachia

  • View from Pachia to Nisyros

  • Leaving Pachia

    Conclusion

    Within one week, we had visited some fantastic islands: Kastellorizo with its high biodiversity is always worth a visit. The little known island of Nisyros turned out to be a jewel of the Eastern Aegean, which still has a lot to discover – definitely a place we would like to come back!

  • Leaving Nisyros

    Literature:

    Cattaneo, A. (2006) - A contribution to the knowledge of the herpetofauna of the Aegean island of Nisyros (Dodecanese) - Il Naturalista Siciliano, Ser. IV, 30 (3-4): 485-494.

    Eiselt, J. & Schmidtler, J.F. (1986) - Der Lacerta danfordi-Komplex (Reptilia: Lacertidae). - Spixiana, München, 9 (3): 289-328.

    Kotsakiozi, P.; Jablonski, D.; Ilgaz, Ç.; Kumluta?, Y.; Avc?, A.; Meiri, S.; Itescu, Y.; Kukushkin, O.; Gvoždík, V.; Scillitani, G.; Roussos, S.; Jandzik, D.; Kasapidis, P.; Lymberakis, P.; Poulakakis, N. (2018) - Multilocus phylogeny and coalescent species delimitation in Kotschy's gecko, Mediodactylus kotschyi - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 125: 177-187

    Lymberakis, P.; Poulakakis, N.; Kaliontzopoulou, A.; Valakos, E.; Mylonas, M. (2008) - Two new species of Podarcis (Squamata; Lacertidae) from Greece. - Systematics and Biodiversity, 6 (3): 307–318.

    Lymberakis, P. & Poulakakis, N. (2010) - Three Continents Claiming an Archipelago: The Evolution of Aegean’s Herpetofaunal Diversity - Diversity 2010, 2: 233-255.

    Paysant, F. (2005) - Herpetological notes on the Island of Kastellorizo (South-east Aegean, Greece) - Herpetozoa 18 (1/2) Wien: 80-83