Reptilia: SERPENTES (Snakes)

Snakes are usually harder to find than lizards and often more difficult to capture (see my comments under the Spanish 2011 herp-photo trip). Evenso, this was quite a snake-heavy trip.

We recorded ten species from five families and managed to capture seven of these species for photographic purposes. Eight snakes were seen too briefly to confirm their identification, but they were probably either whipsnakes or Montpellier snakes, so quickly did they leave the scene. We counted 62 individual snakes in the 4.5 days, all living, no road-kills, and caught 18 of these.


Typhlops vermicularis - European blindsnake
The only blindsnake to enter Europe, the European blindsnake (Typhlops vermicularis) extends into Turkey, Asia Minor and the Levant south to Egypt. It has a maximum length of approximately 35 mm and is pink in colouration, in common with other arid-habitat blindsnakes, while humid-habitat blindsnakes are often black or dark brown in colour. Our single specimen was found under a rock at a popular herp location near Loutrós. It proved an excellent photographic subject.

European blindsnake,
Typhlops vermicularis

a specimen from north of Loutrós



Dolichophis caspius - Caspian whipsnake
Whipsnakes are well named, the are highly alert and fast-moving diurnal snakes which take flight at the slightest disturbance. We counted at least 13 Caspian whipsnakes (Dolichophis caspius) and managed to capture three, two of which were sheltering under boards on a small trash dump by the Evros River, and several of the eight incompletely identified fleeing snakes could also have been whipsnakes. A widespread species in southeastern Europe, achieving lengths of 2.0-2.5 m, there is considerable variation in patterning between juveniles and adults. Fortunately we managed to capture both. Whipsnakes also bite tenaciously as some of the group found out quite quickly.


Caspian whipsnake,
Dolichophis caspius

a juvenile from the Evros River, near Loutrós
Caspian whipsnake,
Dolichophis caspius

a large adult from north of Loutrós


Telescopus fallax fallax - European catsnake
One particularily good find was the European catsnake (Telescopus fallax fallax) the European member of a pan-Afro-Arabian genus of nocturnal lizard-eating snakes. One specimen of this medium-sized snake (0.7-0.8 m) was found at a location north of Loutrós.

European catsnake,
Telescopus fallax fallax

a specimen from near Loutrós


Zamensis longissimus longissimus - Aesculapian snake
Driving back from Passáni in the evening, through rocky hill country, we encountered a juvenile Aesulapian snake (Zamensis longissimus longissimus) on the road.
A ratsnake (<1.5 m) with a fragmented by primarily southern and southeastern European distribution, this snake was of special interest to Wolfgang and Axel as they and their students at the University of Bangor are studying a long-established introduced population of Aesculapian snakes in North Wales.


Aesculapian snake,
Zamensis longissimus longissimus

a juvenile from near Passáni


Zamensis situlus - Leopard snake
The Leopard snake (Zamensis situlus) is an attractive 1.2 m ratsnake we had hoped to find in Thrace. Active in the evenings, it was the primary reason for our later excursions into the fieldb but we were only rewarded with one fleeting sighting at Passáni, by Dave Nixon, and no captured specimens for photography.


Natrix natrix persa - Balkan grass snake
The striped Balkan grass snake (Natrix natrix persa) proved to be fairly common in the Evros River and we caught four out of four specimens sighted. Achieving up to 1.2 m in length, these snakes prey on the Marsh frogs (Pelophylax ridibundus) also common in the grassy and reedy margins of the river.

Balkan grass snake,
Natrix natrix persa

adult from Evros River near Loutrós
Balkan grass snake,
Natrix natrix persa

subadult from Evros River near Loutrós
Balkan grass snake,
Natrix natrix persa

juvenile from Evros River near Loutrós

Natrix tessellata tessellata - Dice snake
Less common (seemingly),and smaller (1.0 m) that then Balkan grass snake (Natrix natrix persa) was the Dice snake (Natrix tessellata tessellata), aka Tessellated watersnake. We saw three specimens and after much effort and a soaking Dave Richards managed to capture one for photography. This specimen gave a good demonstration of thanatosis (death feigning). The more slender dice snakes prey more on fish and leave the frogs to the grass snakes.

Dice snake,
Natrix tessellata tessellata

from Evros River near Loutrós



Malpolon insignitus fuscus - Eastern Montpellier snake
The Montpellier snakes are amongst the largest snakes in Europe, achieving lengths of up to 2.5 m. The Balkan populations are now treated as separate from the Montpellier snake of southwestern Europe (Malpolon monspessulanus), as the Eastern Montpellier snake (Malpolon insignitus fuscus), the nominate subspecies being found in North Africa. Although a frequent road-kill casualty we did not find any road-killed specimens and saw only one confirmed living Montpellier snake near Pessáni, although some of the snakes which fled before they could be identified may well have been this species. No specimens were photographed.


Montivipera xanthina - Ottoman viper
Our number one target species was the Ottoman viper (Montivipera xanthina), Europe's largest venomous snake (<1.0 m) which only enters mainland Europe in European Turkey and the Greek province of Thrace. We searched a number of locations and found these vipers to be fairly common to the west, north and east of Loutrós in a variety of habitats. We counted approximately 28 vipers, sometimes seeing the same specimen on separate days, and we caught seven for photography, from juveniles to adults, returning them all to precisely the same GPSed localities afterwards.

Ottoman vipers,
Montivipera xanthina

juveniles from various locations around Loutrós
Ottoman vipers,
Montivipera xanthina

road-killed juvenile near Loutrós
Ottoman vipers,
Montivipera xanthina

juvenile regurgetated a
Megarian banded centipede
, Scolopendra cingulata

(click for close view of centipede)
Ottoman vipers,
Montivipera xanthina

adults from various locations around Loutrós

Vipera ammodytes meridionalis - Southern nose-horn viper
Our second target species was the Southern nose-horn viper (Vipera ammodytes meridionalis) which sometimes occurs alongside the Ottoman viper (Montivipera xanthina) in agricultural settings. we travelled widely, as far north as Passáni, in the hopes of finding this smaller viper (0.65 m) but were rewarded by only one fleeting sighting by Wolfgang as a snake poured itself into a stone wall. Not wishing to destroy the wall in pursuit of a snake, we came back to the same spot on numerous occasions but it was not seen again.