Saturday, July 25, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 10 (The Northern Highlands)

No area in Jordan has been more frustrating to me for herping than the northern highlands. Beginning around the Amman area and covering the northwestern region of the country (nestled against Israel to the west and Syria to the north) is a place where the elevation is higher, the rains are heavier in the winter months, and the trees are greener. For the amount of time I've spent hiking these northern hills, the amount of interesting herps I've found has been depressingly pitiful. I blame it on my lack of adequate transportation to take me to the best areas, my timetable I'm constantly held to, and the unavoidable heat this time of year. (It certainly can't be my herping!)
I have several species on my wish list for this area of Jordan, but I've come up empty-handed every time. To look at things optimistically, however, I suppose if this had been my first area to blog about, there would have been plenty of decent herps to document from my searches here. But since I only try to post about new stuff each time, the pickings get slimmer and slimmer. Even so, I have a few "old" species to mention, as well as a couple new guys.
Scorpions are certainly not in short supply up here, either. I've come across several species during my incessant rock turning, from ant-sized brown ones, to impressive yellow ones, and even these two black ones under the same rock. The one with the tail up had just shed it, so its body was all soft, and its behavior was more shy than typical.

Lizards still make frequent showings, and the sight of any reptile is at least something to enjoy. I found these yearling starred agamas entertaining, in spite of this specie's dominance over most of western Jordan.
In addition to the abundance of starred agamas, I've been able to witness several other species in the northern highlands. I've seen snake-eyed lizards shuffling in the leaf litter; I unearthed another Eurasian blind snake in a field; I saw a Meditteranean gecko hiding behind an AC unit and one on a bench; a couple more Schneider's skinks have been seen racing across the ground to find a hole or dense bush; and Levantine fan-toed geckos will slide to the opposite side of rocks to avoid being seen. And, as pictured below, (first time actually making the effort to catch one) Lebanon lizards also race around the rocks and trees of these forested hillsides.
It seems, though, that you don't always have to be on some distant hillside to spot a new specie. The other day while walking to school in the morning I glimpsed a lizard sitting next to the sidewalk under a small bush. I've walked this route to school a hundred times, and I figured this was just another snake-eyed lizard like I see every morning. But picking up on a bit of "skink-iness" I took a second look and realized it was a skink specie that I had yet to run across in all my herping in Jordan so far. That day after school, I went herping practically in my front yard to find this new specie.
I patrolled an empty lot near the road by my apartment, which didn't exactly look like pristine habitat. However, after turning over rocks and debris, I finally uncovered a specimen of the same specie beneath a large slab of concrete in the field.
Aparently, this little section of land had been home to a small population of bridled skinks (Trachylepis vittata) that had managed to avoid my watchful eye until now. New species are always so satisfying whether they're at the top of the "wish list" or not.

The northern highlands again gave me a new specie when I visited the old ruins of Um Qais in northern Jordan, near the city of Irbid and close to the Syrian border. After I got my fill of archaeology, I stepped away from my colleagues and decided to do some quick herping while I had some time. The rocks were abundant and strewn about, so I got going flipping as many stones as I could that looked promising. Eventually, I got lucky and my persistence paid off.
Using both arms, I rolled over a large rock and excitedly saw the frantic movements of a smooth, shiny, cylinder trying to quickly bury itself beneath the soft dirt. A Jordan limbless skink, or also called Latast's legless lizard (Ophiomorus latastii), was a specie that didn't enter my consciousness often while flipping stones (and frankly, one that I didn't expect to find), but one that I was, nonetheless, very happy to capture and photograph.
I've caught a respectable number of lizard species in Jordan, but there are still a handful that I would really enjoy coming across in my field searches. I haven't been doing as well on the snake front, unfortunately. I only have about two more weeks left in Jordan, so hopefully I'll come across at least one more new specie before I head out. If not, there will still be a little time in Israel for nearly two weeks to continue my herping before flying back to the states. I think Jordan has been good to me overall, in spite of a few unproductive outings here and there.


  1. Jeff,
    Hey nice find, the latast's Legless Lizard would have been cool to find. So time is running out there, I hope you make some more cool finds before you get back. When you do we are going to have to catch a mountain king snake. By the way you owe me an email. Keep herping.

  2. Wow, those look like big scorpions!