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Colourful living

Over the Bank Holiday weekend I was in the Lake District, which was wonderful. I love the Lakes for so many reasons, and the views and vibrancy of the colourful backdrop contributed to making this time even more special. Appreciating the small things and special moments in life makes for memories I wouldn’t swap for the world )).

At one point I came across a tiny grass snake, a really beautiful little thing. Even at such a small size it had the bright yellow markings behind the head so characteristic of the species (pictured). The use of colour in nature is a fascinating subject for me, whether it be the markings on a snake, a tropical frogs’ bright iris or even it’s infra-red reflecting skin pigment.  

Recently I have been co-supervising one of our 3rd year students’ projects that focuses on the use of colour in female Anolis lizards. It was the focus of a project by Olivia Spencer (pictured), who started as one of our volunteers and later wanted to conduct her research in the department as part of her Zoology Degree. Although the use of colour and the use of it in the dewlaps of such lizards is well-known in males, the use in relation to female territoriality has not been investigated. Olivia found that not only do females use their colourful dewlaps in female/female situations (pictured below), but they also drastically change their body colour depending upon dominance. Interesting stuff!

Colour in nature has also been the subject for the development of one of our key Secondary and post 16 science education sessions here at the Museum by our Lead Educator Dr Alexa Jeanes. These are really superb sessions that form part of a fantastic offering by The Manchester Museum at this level *. This session draws upon the expertise of the department and some superb specimens within of our live collection.  After being successfully trialed last year * they are now fully available for school bookings. To find out more about this particular session please Click Here

Mossy Magic!

Spot the baby gecko!? (c) Andrew Gray

When reptile eggs hatch in our vivarium incubator its always a magic moment – but today it was extra special! )) For this morning we had 2 baby mossy geckos, Rhacodactylus chahoua, hatch after developing in their eggs for over 3 months. These are just wonderful lizards, and although they are sometimes seen in captivity, they are rarely reproduced. It was fantastic to see the tiny miniatures, and Adam in particular was absolutely thrilled. He has been trying to breed these for some time and they are his favorite species. Over the past few days he has been checking the eggs very regularly and they have received such attention over their development period that I think he feels like a proud father.

Young Mossy Gecko, 1 day old (c) Andrew Gray

Mossy geckos are an  arboreal gecko that have a prehensile tail and are found on the southern part of New Caledonia and on surrounding islands. The ones we have in the museum are from the Isle de Pines. Their colors range from red and brown to green or grey, and when sitting on bark or such-like they are extremely well camouflaged. We are so pleased that the animals we have in the museum have bred and all credit for the success is due to Adam’s knowledge are care.  Below is a video of the proud father with his new brood!

P.S. Make sure you also check out ADAMS PAGE, which features Adam showing other lizards in Madagascar and at Nordens Ark in Sweden when he visited last year.

The Journey is the Prize!

Nose-horned Viper, Vipera ammodytes

I have to say that it’s been a fabulous time away, and I’d like to thank Matt and Carl, without whom the herping would not have been half so interesting, and also Adam in Manchester, without whom the chill out would not have been so thought free. One of the main aims of my trip was to find and photograph a Nose-horned Viper, Vipera ammodytes. It’s something I have wanted to see in the wild for a long time, and a species that remained totally elusive on my last trip to Corfu.

Under your nose mate! Close up of eye, heat-sensing pit, and nose horn. (c) Andrew Gray

All the different snakes we have come across on this trip have been found mainly through searching for this one species. Distances traveled by car, on foot, through orchards, olive groves, pastures, mountainsides and valleys. But no sign of a viper throughout all that thorough searching. If I had found one though, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to share all the other amazing species with you over the past week. I hope you have enjoyed my posts from Corfu as much as I have enjoyed sharing my trip with you. A couple of things I have had reinforced by my experience looking for the viper, is that what you gain along the way to achieving an aim is sometimes as or more rewarding than actually fulfilling it, and that often the very thing you are searching for can be right there under you nose all the time. It all works. 

Corfu’s Rarest!

Sand Boa, Corfu. (c) Andrew Gray

I started my holiday on Corfu by photographing an amazing Sand Boa, an extremely rare snake to be found on the island. It’s always a very special moment when you’re presented with a species like that when you are totally not expecting it.





One of the species I had really hoped to see on Corfu was a Nose-horned Viper, and much of the trip has been geared around trying to find one. The areas around Mount Pandocrator are supposed to be the best places on the island to look for this highly venomous species.

Cat Snake, Corfu. (c) Andrew Gray

However, whilst searching for this elusive snake in a favoured area I got a big surprise – flipping a stone I actually came across something much rarer: a beautiful Cat Snake, Telescopus fallax (pictured left) Both Matt and Carl were also amazed, and we all managed to get some great photos of the specimen before returning it where it had been found.

It appears that during just one week herping in Corfu we have been fortunate enough to find probably the rarest snakes on the Island, as apparently both the Sand Boa and the Cat Snake have only been recorded here 2 or 3 times in all. It could easily have been a different story, so I feel very lucky and priveliged to have done so 🙂

The Cat, or Cat-eyed, Snake was really beautiful and kind of reminded me of the Cat-eyed snakes from Costa Rica: Both are long slender snakes that fill the same niche, have vertical pupils and rear fangs, and hunt frogs or small sleeping lizards at night. However, the ones in Corfu belong to a different genus and are more ground dwelling than arboreal. Cat-eyed snakes in Costa Rica are also extremely plentiful, whereas this snake was a very rare find and a real unexpected treat! 

Roll of the Dice

One of the things I love about being on holiday in Corfu is the ability to mix serious chill out with serious herping. Where I am staying is the perfect spot for both, as the mountainside that provides such ideal habitat for so many species also borders the most beautiful coastline (pictured right). The blue crystal clear water is so inviting, and the flower-scented mountain air seems to soak into you just as easy. To me, Corfu almost feels like a mix of the Med and the Tropics rolled into one. And that’s got to be good for the soul.

I would highly recommend anyone interested in nature and walking in Corfu to get a copy of This Book*. With so many beautiful places and varied landscapes to have to choose from you could roll a new dice each day and all would be great options. Today I spent the day inland, in the lovely central Ropa Valley searching for herps* with Matt and his friend Carl, followed by a short visit to scenic coastal resort Paleokastritsa (pictured above).

Yesterday’s post highlighted some of the human threats to reptiles on Corfu, and apart from snakes effected by human actions, its also other reptiles too, including tortoises*. When threatened all a tortoise can do to protect itself is hide in its shell, but did you know that some snakes have become so wise to being killed they have even evolved to play dead when caught to avoid being hurt further. This strategy of rolling over and feigning death and is quite common in one particular snake from Corfu, the Dice Snake, Natrix tesselata. Here is a clip of a rare melanistic specimen of the species:

The long and short of it

Last time in Corfu I was lucky enough to come across the shortest species of snake on the island, a small worm or blind snake*. However, today I saw the largest species, the Four-lined Snake, Elaphe quatuorlineata. It’s a diurnal species that’s active from dawn till dusk, during which time it continually hunts small mammals and birds to eat. As its name suggests, it has four lines that run along the body, but these only develop as the snake grows and are not present on young individuals*. Unfortunately, a lot of these snakes are killed by people here, as many think that all the snakes are dangerous and should be killed on sight. This is particularly sad with regards this large snake because in reality its actually very harmless and will do little to try and defend itself. Even the largest specimen will not attempt to bite and are extremely placid with humans compared to most other wild snakes. Below is a medium sized specimen hunting in an olive grove that I filmed today, and a clip here especially for Emma Springfield*

Other human threats to snakes on Corfu: The Montpellier Snake 

Legless in Corfu! (Pt 2)

As well as grass snakes, I also have soft spot for slow worms, Anguis fragilis*. These are not snakes, but a legless lizard that look very much like one. I used to look for them in the Lake District when I went up there every summer as a boy with my Grandma and family, and it took me ages to find one sometimes. However, within just a few days of being in Corfu I have already come across several, large and small, hidden away under stones. I have to say that is a little dodgy lifting stones in Corfu, as you never quite know what you might find*. Anyway, I have now decided to wear gloves! 🙂

One of the things you needn’t worry about wearing gloves for when you find one is a large relative of the slow worm that is also found on Corfu, the European Glass Lizard, Pseudopus apodus. These extremely strong snake-like lizards are really amazing creatures, and its a good job they don’t bite as they can grow to almost a metre and a half in length and have very powerful jaws. Their skin is very strange though: They have really tough scales on their lizard-like head and keeled bony platelets covering their entire body to serve as armour protection. I saw one last time*, but here is one I found today:

PS. For other video related to this post please click the links* highlighted in the text above!