Thursday, July 2, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 7 (The Arid East)

As one drives east from Amman, the rolling Mediterranean hills merge into a monotonous brown wasteland. Dust devils form and patrol the landscape, admiring the hardiness of any trees and shrubs that still stand.
A little further down the road (as if driving toward Iraq) you reach the city of Azraq, which means "blue" in Arabic, since it used to possess a huge, vast wetland with migrating birds, monstrous catfish, and croaking amphibians--a veritable oasis to quench the otherwise parched earth. After over a decade of pumping out the water to feed the growing demand out west, the wetlands slowly disappeared in the early 90s, leaving only remnant evidences of what once was. It was here at this ecological disaster in the city "Blue" where I decided to voyage for a day's herping.
Volcanic rocks crop out of the earth here. The mid-day heat radiates off the dark boulders, and I didn't imagine finding much in the soaring temperatures.
I was both surprised and excited to see a specie that I had seen pictured in many tourist pamphlets, a lone Sinai agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus) on guard duty. Often, these spindly, spidery agamas turn a brilliant blue color during breeding. They hold themselves high off the hot rock, keeping a watch for any insect that might fly or crawl by.
My friends were not always the most considerate or cooperative as I attempted to capture the agama in the uncomfortable heat.
Rather than an impressive blue (which would have been a fitting find in the city whose name indicates the same), this healthy Sinai agama specimen was a dark brown to match the igneous wasteland it inhabits.
We trekked down the hillside onto the flat, sandy ground to see what other species existed here. Keeping a close watch on us from a nearby embankment of earth sat a Persian agama (Trapelus persicus). This specie in Jordan is only found in the Azraq region, so I was pleased to find the one specimen to examine and photograph. Its appearance and demeanor struck with a ring of familiarity, making me think that this is the same specie I used to catch as a young boy in Saudi Arabia, and which I called a "scorpion lizard".
The lizard was fast to get away after being released, but surprisingly unwary of my presence when I approached it and pinned it with a stick.
While handling it, the tail began turning orange, and the sides and neck turned blue. The color change was rather fast and unexpected.
The exploration of more barren desert was on my mind, so we went to a different area. While my friends looked inside an old castle, I took the opportunity to see if I could locate a new specie or two.
I turned over many stones, but only found a large scorpion. Finally I spotted an old piece of carpet in the distance, so I jogged on over. Although the habitat isn't much to look at, the advantage that it does have for herping is that there aren't a ton of places for things to hide. Sitting under the carpet was an attractive little Baluch ground gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus), another new specie for me to stick on my list.
No toepads for this guy...just claws. Turning my eyes to the horizon, I saw a small pile of rocks and concrete that I suspected a reptile might enjoy. Sure enough, another agama specie.
A Pale agama, or Desert agama (Trapelus pallidus), found it to be a fine basking spot. Again, the capture wasn't extremely difficult.
Lizards were not super abundant out here; I imagine because little vegetation means little insect life, and hence few predators. Regardless, the few I did find I was also able to catch and photograph. I would love to see some snakes and more lizard species, but the day would have to end with this last individual. With three new agamas and one new gecko, we got back on the road and watched the scenery change back into hills and trees and green.


  1. Jeff,
    Those agamas are pretty cool, the variation between species is interesting to see. Hey so I hear that Horned Vipers range into Jordan, you really need to catch one of those. Catching one of those would be sweet. I want to catch a hognosed snake and a milk snake but they dont quite range into Albuquerque. Im going to try to go down south and do a little herp trip down there. We will have to see, it is like a 3 hour drive to where I want to go.

  2. Yeah Devin, the agamas are pretty cool. I think there are two more agama species in Jordan that I haven't caught yet. You're right, horned vipers live in the deserts out here. The problem is that they like sandy deserts and dunes, and those are pretty much way down south...hard for me to get to, but I will be down there next week with the group so we'll see. (I'll try to find a sandfish, too, while I'm out there.) Actually, there are several viper species here, and I'd be happy to find any of them (Palestine, saw-scaled, horned, dwarf sand, etc). I hope you have some success on your trip. I'll keep herping, too, and try to get a couple more posts up before I leave Jordan. The problem is that with each new post that means there are less and less new things for me to find and photograph. Tomorrow I'm going to go out early to a nearby town and see if I can find something new. Recently, it's just been the same old stuff, though...

  3. I loved the Agamas(?) They kinda look like chamilions and thoes are my favorite... just a thought... you should catch one! Don't they live there?