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Matt, Majorca, and the Midwife!

Matt, my assistant, has just come back from a short break in Majorca where he went specifically to search for two particularly interesting reptiles and amphibians. Majorca doesn’t have many native species of wildlife, but apparently in 1979, whilst exploring the deep gorges of the Sierra de Tramuntana in western Majorca, scientists discovered a fossil of a species of midwife toad that was previously unknown from the island. A short time later some tadpoles of this ancient species of amphibian were found alive in a small mountain pool at the foot of the gorge. This brought about one of the biggest amphibian conservation efforts in recent history and the species, Alytes muletensis, was given official protection even before an adult specimen had ever been discovered. It was not long before conservationists who braved the deep gorges of Majorca found adults of the little toad that had evaded scientists for so long, now named the Majorcan midwife toad. After decades of conservation projects, Majorca now has 35 populations of its unique midwife toad, after several successful reintroduction. However, the presence of introduced Viperine water snakes still poses a threat to the species.  During Matt’s trip he visited several known areas where the species occurs. For the rest of this post, Matt will explain what he found on his trip:

“In one of the deepest gorges where the species is found I was only able to find tadpoles of the species, as it was not possible to progress further into the gorge without climbing gear. Thanks to local Herpetologist Samuel Pinya, I was able to visit a site on private property purchased by the Majorcan government. After a long hike we arrived at the small, artificial cistern that was filled with tadpoles of the toads. As Samuel knows the area, and all midwife toad populations in Majorca so well we uncovered 23 adult toads hiding beneath stones inside of the cistern. Each week Samuel visits this spot to measure, weigh and take further details from each specimen for his PhD thesis on the species. It was truly remarkable how this species has been able to recover from the brink of extinction, and furthermore, how it was able to evade scientists for so long.

During my week in Majorca I also visited three off shore islets which hold populations of Lilford’s wall lizard, an endemic species which is extinct on the main island of Majorca due to the introduction of predators, notably snakes, by the Romans several thousand years ago. The lizards on these islands are unbelievably tame, due to having no previous interaction with humans or predators. I was able to pay a local fisherman to take me to three different off shore islands where different subspecies of the lizard live. On one of the islands the lizards are small and black, whereas on another they are large and brown or an olive green colour. Just by sitting down on a rock, dozens of lizards come out to investigate what this new animal in their habitat might be. They are especially tame if you have anything edible with you, and will literally swarm over any piece of fruit or biscuit you might offer them!”

To watch a video of Matt showing how tame the Lizards are on Dragonera please click Here and Here

To watch a video of Matt showing Viperine snakes, which were introduced to the islands by the Romans,  and are the main threat to the Majorcan Midwife Toads, click Here

To watch a video of Samuel Pinya measuring the largest Midwife Toad ever to be found (440mm) please click Here.

Don’t forget that you can check out Matt’s own superb blog to read more of his trips to see different herps throughout Europe:   http://mwilsonherps.wordpress.com/

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