Sunday, May 31, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 1 (The Arrival)

As our large boat from Nuweiba finally docked in Aqaba, I stepped off onto the pier into the warm, salty air and embrace of sunshine. For the next 3 months, Jordan would be my country of residence for studying Arabic; but as a herper, of course, I have the urge to search out local reptiles and amphibians whenever possible. With two hours of free time dangling in front of me like a rare, arboreal serpent, I seized it with the vigor that only a herper in a new land possesses.
It's not like herpers are catered to and conveniently dropped off in the most ideal habitat. Rather, like much of the time, I seek out the best I can find and make do with the most ideal habitats I can get to. A rocky, desert wash with a few acacias and palms sat near the beach and hotel, so I decided to comb the area for anything I could find. Here began my herping adventures of Jordan!

I've already documented my first herp specie in the Egyptian geckos section, but actually, it was my first herp in Jordan. The keeled rock gecko (Cryptopodion scaber, pictured in previous post) sat under a rock in the wash and motivated me to continue in search of other interesting finds. Not long afterward, I flipped over a board and caught my first fan-fingered gecko.
The yellow fan-fingered gecko (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii) may also have been the gecko I photographed from afar in Egypt.
His wide toepads enabled him to travel quickly on horizontal and vertical surfaces, alike.
I found another of the same specie (with a full tail) seeking shelter under tree bark. Happy with two new gecko species, I found an area next to a chain-link fence, in hopes of finding a herp under the boards and rocks next to the fence. I flipped over a board and saw a flash of movement wriggle to hide under a new board. I pressed the middle of the board firmly to the ground, pinning whatever sat beneath it. Then, I lifted up the front to see the back end of a lovely, decent-sized skink that now could not get away. I used my free hand to lift it up into the light for a couple quick photos.
An ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus) wondering how it was discovered and why it's still alive.
The skink gets its name from the spots that look like eyes covering its body. Although its legs are short, it's a strong lizard and can move quickly across the ground.

The time sped by quickly, and before I knew it, our study abroad group was back on the bus heading north for Amman. The landscape changed from hot, rocky desert to cool, high-altitude desert to a green Mediterranean-style habitat. I found my first herps in Amman before even leaving the bus, since the agamas enjoyed basking conspicuously on rocks near the road.
A basking starred agama (Laudakia stellio).
The starred agama is the most commonly seen lizard in the Amman area. This one was only a juvenile.

I sat on the bus wondering what other species of herps lived out there in the rocky hills. There was about an hour of daylight left after I arrived and got settled in my new apartment. I wanted to take a quick walk around the neighborhood before it got dark, so a friend and I walked along until I found a large orchard with a pile of rocks in one corner. I couldn't resist seeing what might live under those rocks, so my friend kindly sat there while I utilized the last moments of daylight for herping.
It turned out that a snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elegans) had made them his home. Another new specie for me. My travels through Jordan to my destination of Amman had revealed five Jordanian herp species that day, and I would come across many more in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Identification Revisions

The lack of proper identifications for the Egyptian herps has been weighing on my mind, so I did a little bit of research and wanted to update the blog with the new information and make it more thorough and professional.

Starting at the bottom of my first Egyptian herps post and moving up through the more recent post:

The gecko found under a stone in a ditch in Aqaba is indeed a different specie--

Cryptopodion scaber (Keeled rock gecko or rough-skinned gecko)

The geckos found on the dunes in Nuweiba are as previously described--Stenodactylus petrii (Anderson's short-fingered gecko, a.ka. dwarf sand gecko)

The faster lizard that got away in Nuweiba and wasn't photographed-- Acanthodactylus scutellatus (Fringe-toed sand lizard)

The gecko photgraphed from a distance on a wall in Saqqara is still unknown-- Possibly a specie of fan-fingered geckos.

The geckos seen on the ceiling by fluorescent lights in Luxor are still unknown--Perhaps an introduced specie or maybe even a couple fan-fingered's as well.

The guy trapped in the cup that was caught by my hotel in Nuweiba--
Hemidactylus turcicus (Turkish gecko, a.k.a Mediterranean gecko)

The little, terrestrial gecko found in Giza by the pyramids--
Tropiocolotes steudneri (Steudner's Gecko)

The lizard found near Mount Sinai--
Mesalina brevirostris (Small-spotted lizard)

The skinks running around the bushes in Luxor--
Mabuya quinquetaeniata (Bean Skink)

Ahh, it's good to get that off my mind. It would make things much easier if I just had a field guide (for both Egypt and Jordan), but those seem hard to come by here. Good thing for Internet. Anyway, hope this is interesting. Devin, you need to post your new finds. After that, I'll post some Jordanian species. Happy herping!

Friday, May 15, 2009

More of Egypt's Herps (Non-geckos)

I would have loved to explore the many great habitats and ecosystems of Egypt, but a lack of time and an abundance of rules restricted me mostly to desert areas close to the city where geckos run wild. I did see a few non-gecko herps in Egypt, however, and this is a record of those.
These skinks loved basking on the sidwalks and perched under bushes around my hotel in Luxor, Egypt. They were even good at climbing trees to escape capture. Not sure on the specie.
Some of them had amazing greens and yellows along their sides, probably as a result of mating season. All the sunburned European tourists sitting by the pool in their speedos and gross bikinis didn't know what to make of the American boy crawling on his hands and knees through the bushes...acting like they've never seen a herper before.
The area around Mount Sinai is a sparsely vegetated, rocky landscape that doesn't seem able to support much life. The weather was somewhat cool the day I was there, and I only happened upon one small lizard, in spite of my watchful eye and busy-ness flipping rocks.
Again, I am unsure of the specie name, but it looked like it filled the kind of niche that side-blotched lizards fill in the US. It kind of looked similar but had a longer snout and different patterning.
While snorkeling the Red Sea, I saw this guy swimming for shelter 15 feet below me. I was ecstatic to see a sea snake! (Sorry for the small picture). Then, while trying to look up what specie it was I learned that sea snakes can't live in the Red Sea due to the high salinity content of the water, and this "sea snake" that I was so excited to see was actually called a spotted snake eel...why?! You know, whether it's an S-shaped piece of rubber laying on the shoulder of a desert road or spotted snake eel, Mother Nature always finds ways to fool even the most seasoned herper.

In addition to these herps, there was also the lizard found on the dunes in Nuweiba that escaped beneath the bush, which I believe was the long-footed lizard, Acanthodactylus longipes. (Google it and look under images for a picture.) Also, I found a pool full of small, black tadpoles in the Al-Azhar Gardens in Cairo probably from the green toad (Bufo viridis). The gardeners there wouldn't let me do a detailed investigation to find an adult. ...And I think that basically sums things up for Egypt. I've already caught some cool Jordanian herps, and a post on those will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some Egyptian Herps (Geckos)

It's about time that I contributed to the herping blog, but let me start with a bit of a disclaimer. I'm in the Middle East studying Arabic for the summer, and although the herps out here are varied and many, I really don't get a lot of chances to get out away from city and suburbs to do intense herping. Whenever I'm not studying Arabic (which is most of my time) I am convincing someone to come with me out into the heat and sun to watch me catch lizards (not an easy task). I have to always leave with a buddy and that limits what I'm able to do. Now...with that being said, I LOVE herping and take the opportunities whenever I can, so let me show you a few things I've found along the way of my travels. On a side note, identifying the herps is tricky. There aren't many resources available, and I don't have the time I want to research all these species, so I apologize for the amateur identifications. This entry is only herps in Egypt, and later I'll do another of the herps I've found in Jordan.

I found a quick chance to turn over some rocks in Giza around the pyramids. The tourist traffic is heavy here, and it's not exactly the best habitat, but I was finished pyramid gazing and thought I'd give it a quick go before having to board the bus again.
After only seeing a few beetles and lots of wrappers and soda cans, I was pleased to find this little desert dweller. With only claws at the end of her fingers, it's evident this species is a ground dwelling gecko, probably patrolling the area at night looking for bugs under stones and trash. Not sure on the specie and only found the one.
This was an alert little guy that was found at my hotel in Nuweiba, Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula. I caught several of them, but they were always scurrying across the sidewalk under the walkway lights, sticking their heads out of gaps in rock walls, or climbing the lower areas of palm trees. They weren't on flat, vertical surfaces, such as around porch lights. I think this specie is called the Turkish gecko. (Although, I thought Turkish geckos climbed walls and hung out around porch I'm confused.) Compared to the previous specie, this one had a larger head, more developed toe pads, and larger tuburcles on the back. They must be different species.
As you can tell, geckos dominated my reptile finds in Egypt. Egypt has many reptile species, but lizards are the dominant group here, and within that group, geckos are the most numerous and conspicuous. As for this specie, my guess is perhaps the tropical house gecko. They'd frequent developed areas in Luxor, Egypt, especially around bright lights and signs of hotels and stores.
I could only get a distant photo of this gecko before it took off. This was at the location of an old temple in Saqqara, Egypt. I was surprised to see it out in the open during mid-day. Not sure of the specie.This was my favorite gecko specie of Egypt. I found this guy after taking off one morning during free time to walk around some sand dunes across the street from our hotel in Nuweiba, Egypt. I just really enjoyed its mild-mannered personality, slow gait, plump appearance, and how it holds itself up off the desert sand. It also chirped when I picked it up. I think I've identified it as the Anderson's short-fingered gecko (Stenodactylus petrii).
It only wanted to be left alone but was still nice to me. I think it may have been gravid, too. Unfortunately, I didn't have tons of time to keep herping that morning. Close to this gecko, I found another lizard that was white-ish, with maybe orange-ish spots, and a look that half resembled a fringe-toed lizard and half resembled a whiptail. It would not stand still and I could not get a photo off. It disappeared beneath a thorny bush.
I flipped over a board and found three more little short-fingered geckos beneath it. These guys had a bit more patterning. I put the board back over them left for the bus just as a big sand storm blew in.
I found this gecko in Aqaba, which is technically Jordan, not Egypt, but I grouped it in here because it looked similar to the Turkish geckos I found in Nuweiba. Also, I would imagine this specie ranges into Egypt, which was only a few miles away. I found this one under a rock in a dry ravine, and I haven't decided if it also was a Turkish gecko or not. It seemed different to me. The scales on its back looked less like the tubercles on the Turkish geckos I had caught previously and more like scutes, resembling something like a crocodile. Its coloring was also different.

This more or less concludes the geckos of Egypt section. I have more pictures of geckos from Jordan that I will post soon, but also I will make another post (since this is getting lengthy) of the non-gecko herps I found in Egypt.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Derek, Brittany, Diana, and I went to the Sonoran Desert Museum last week. I love that place it is a fun place to go, and it is more a zoo than a museum. It is basically a zoo of animals native to the Sonoran desert. Here is a picture of Diana and I at the museum, pretty view.
Derek, Brittany, Me, Diana

Spiny tailed Iguanas were released on the grounds awhile back, and now there is a steady population of these lizards roaming the area. This was a BIG adult.

This was a juvenile Spiny tailed Iguana that I caught.
This was a larger Spiny tail, that Derek and I caught.

Same individual, (Jeff, notice it lost and re-grew the end of its tail. Could this be the one that you tried to catch the year before but only walked away with part of the tail???? LOL Well sorry you werent there but I was successful this time around. HAHAHA)

Another close up of the same one. We saw about four different Iguanas and we caught two.
Now Jeff you are going to be really jealous with these next pictures. Last week I talked Derek and Diana into going herping with me for a few hours. We went and walked down a wash (the same one where I saw the Gila Monster, and the Black tail Rattlesnake the week before) and after walking for awhile and not see much I came to a shaded area with a large tree growing out of the side of the wash against a bank. I looked over a dead tree and just on the other side I spotted this dinner plate sized Desert Tortoise. I was way excited. I had seen a juvenile Desert Tortoise before but this was the first adult. His shell was about 12 inches long, He was massive. Awesome find. I wish I had a better camera so I could get better pictures.
I took plenty of pictures, here are a few.