The Eastern Aegean islands of Samos and Ikaria are quite different neighbors: Samos, close to the Turkish Coast, is a holiday destination with lovely Mediterranean landscapes and crowded beaches. In contrast to this, Ikaria is a rough and wild island, with a somehow anarchic appearance. Although tourists are welcome, the Ikarians won’t sell their souls – similar to the people from Crete, they love their island and cannot imagine to live elsewhere. We had the joy to visit both islands in June 2019. There are daily ferries cruising between Samos and Ikaria. So we spent the first days on Samos, afterwards went to Ikaria and turned back to Samos in the end of our trip.
Also in a herpetological perspective, these islands differ significantly. Samos hosts a well-explored herpetofauna which comprises some 25 species. Ikaria, however, has been rarely visited by herpetologists which might be caused by the fact that this isolated “deep water island” has a rather limited herpetofauna of 13 species.
Our accommodation was located in the north of the island near Karlovassi, the ferry harbor to Ikaria. As we already had visited Samos in 2009, we knew that this island may be challenging for herpers: Although it has an amazing species richness and beautiful herping habitats, the population densities are very low; especially during the summer months herping can be a tough job. So we focused on the local Rock Lizards (Anatololacerta anatolica anatolica) and spent a substantial part of our stay enjoying the pleasures of beach life.
Although we knew where to find them, even the Rock Lizards were seen in very low numbers, not more than two or three specimens within one locality – maybe a result of high predation pressure. Anatololacerta anatolica on Samos is rather inconspicuous, showing brownish colors with orange throats during mating season. Both sexes look quite similar and can best be distinguished by the fact that males have bigger heads than females.
Other species were found sporadically: Heremites auratus (Levant Skink) and Stellagama stellio (Starred Agama) were quite abundant even in hot temperatures. Other species seen were Ophisaurus apodus (Sheltopusik), Dolichophis caspius (Caspian Whip Snake), Eirenis modestus (Dwarf Snake).
Our accommodation on Ikaria was close to Evdilos, the ferry harbor in the north, which is a good starting point for exploring the island. Our first goal were the mountains of Western Ikaria, a lonely area with big forest and hidden villages. These mountains have a rather humid climate with plenty of rain in winter and often wrapped by clouds during summer, an amazing landscape. Particularly, the valley of Pezi at the western edge of the island with its pine forests, granite rocks and a small stream, which has running water even in summer, turned out to be quite productive.
We were quite curious to see the Ikarian Rock Lizards (Anatololacerta anatolica oertzeni): After the revision of the genus Anatololacerta by BELLATI et al. (2015) this lizards are still regarded as a separate subspecies as they genetically differ from their relatives on Samos. We didn't really know how these lizards would look like, as only few pictures were publicly available. In their description, WERNER (1904) and SCHREIBER (1912) spent a lot of time with counting scales but didn’t mention any obvious field characters.
Our first surprise was that these lizards are very abundant on the island: In contrast to their relatives on Samos, Anatololacerta anatolica oertzeni occurs in a wide range of habitats in good numbers. The second surprise was to see their colors: Unlike other members of the genus Anatololacerta, the Ikarian Rock Lizards show a strong sexual dichromatism. Females (and juveniles) have a contrasting pattern with dark backs and white dorsolateral lines and orange throats. Older males have greyish-brownish colors, no orange on throats but whitish undersides with small dark spots and sometimes small cyan colored dots on outer ventral scales. By these characters, Anatololacerta anatolica oertzeni is one of the few Lacertids with females showing brighter colors than males. For sure, it would be interesting to know whether these differences between the sexes are also reflected in the lizards’ social behavior. However, as breeding season already was finished during our stay, we couldn’t make any observations on their reproduction behavior. Generally, intraspecific aggression seems moderate with often two adult males and several females sharing one suitable habitat.
The other Lacertid lizard on Ikaria, Ophisops elegans (Snake-eyed Lacertid), turned out to be abundant and widespread as well but seems to prefer more arid habitats than Anatololacerta anatolica. Remarkably, Lacerta trilineata (Balkan Green Lizard) seems to lack on Ikaria (see also BROGGI, 2001). Other species seen on Western Ikaria were Bufotes virdis (Green Toad), Pelophylax bedriagae (Levant Water Frog), Stellagama stellio and Natrix natrix (Grass Snake).
In the center of the island with its steep mountains and lush valleys there are numerous vital and busy villages. Actually, most Ikarians seem to live in the mountains but not at the coast! On the windy heights south of Kosikia village Anatololacerta anatolica and Ophisops elegans where abundant as well. They turned out to be great photo models again. As the Rock Lizards of Ikaria haven’t been photographed very often, we subsequently show pictures of several specimens.
In a dry and rocky high-altitude area, we found Mediodactylus orientalis. This gecko formerly had been referred to Mediodactylus kotschyi (Kotschy’s Gecko) but, according to KOTZAKIOZI et al. (2018) should be regarded as a separate species. Compared to Mediodactylus kotschyi on the Cyclades, Mediodactylus orientalis on Ikaria seems to be rather rare: We found it at only one place – maybe a sign for competitive weakness. For us it looked quite similar to Kotschy’s Gecko. Anyhow, we were happy to take in-situ pictures of a specimen basking in the sun as we hadn’t seen pictures of these geckos before.
The Ikarian north coast is a sequence of steep rocky slopes and sandy beaches with several streams and creeks running into the sea. Also here, we came across plenty of Rock Lizards. Other species seen were Natrix natrix (no picture this time, unfortunately), Ablepharus kitaibelii (Snake-eyed Skink) and Mauremys rivulata (Balkan Terrapin). The latter one occurs in high densities in coastal river mouths where it turned out quite tame: Throwing small pieces of reed into the water was sufficient to attract these terrapins. Obviously they expected to be fed by beach tourists. Be as it is – it was a funny experience to be surrounded by those usually shy critters.
Visiting remote islands like Ikaria is somehow the long tail business of herping as you shouldn’t expect to find plenty of species like in the so called “herping hot spots”. However it may be rewarding to explore those less known places as they frequently provide surprises and with its beautiful Rock Lizards, Ikaria is worth being visited by lizard enthusiasts anyway.
BELLATI, A. & CARRANZA, S. & GARCIA-PORTA, J. & FASOLA, M. & SINDACO, R. (2015) - Cryptic diversity within the Anatololacerta species complex (Squamata: Lacertidae) in the Anatolian Peninsula: Evidence from a multi-locus approach. - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 82 (Part A): 219-233.
BROGGI, M. – Bemerkungen zur Herpetofauna der Ägäisinsel Ikaria (Griechenland), HERPETOZOA 14 (1/2): 9 – 14 (2001)
KOTSAKIOZI, P.; JABLONSKI, D.; ILGAZ, Ç.; KUMLUTAS, Y.; AVCI, A.; MEIRI, S.; ITESCU, Y.; KUKUSHIN, O.; GVOZDIK, V.; SCILLITANI, G.; ROUSSOS, S.; JANDZIK, D.; KASAPIDIS, P.; LYMBERAKIS, P.; POULAKAKIS, N. (2018) - Multilocus phylogeny and coalescent species delimitation in Kotschy's gecko, Mediodactylus kotschyi - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 125: 177-187