Spring 2011 Trip: We are back…

Part of the team has returned with the memory cards full of pictures and videos, while another part continue in Morocco in search of the elusive Varanus and the mythical Echis.

From the logistics point of view, the trip was from the beginning a complete disaster, with one of the cars, a Land Rover Defender, broken down just as we touched African soil, forcing us to completely rethink the trip and to go towards the SW instead of SE as planned.

However, the bad luck with our vehicles contrasted with the good luck with herpetofauna, despite the setbacks we found and photographed some of the most emblematic species of reptiles of Morocco.

Cobra Norteafricana (Naja haje legionis)

Before doing an exhaustive account, to confirm the identifications and waiting for the rest of the team to return, the list of species observed and photographed (alive) can be summarized as follows:

Pelophylax saharicus
Bufo mauritanicus
Bufo boulengeri
Pleurodeles waltl
Hyla meridionalis
Discoglossus scovazzi
Testudo graeca
Chamaeleo chamaeleon
Hyalosaurus koellikeri
Tarentola mauritanica
Tarentola chazaliae
Saurodactylus brosseti
Natrix maura
Boaedon fuliginosus
Hemorrhois algirus
Naja haje legionis
Bitis arietans
Chalcides polylepis
Chalcides sphenopsiformis
Acanthodactylus maculatus
Acanthodactylus lineomaculatus
Acanthodactylus aureus

To this list must be added numerous citations of species found on the roads run over, drowned in in cisterns, or stoned by local people: Dasypeltis sahelensis, Scutophis moilensis, etc…

Spring 2011 trip to SE Morocco

Taking advantage of the late Easter vacations this year, the team of www.moroccoherps.com is embarking in a new herpetology expedition to the north of Africa. The idea is to prospect the arid SE visiting Figuig and the Tigri and Chebbi ergs, although the route is flexible and we will decide at the moment depending on the meteorology, the cars, Islamic revolutions and other unexpected problems.

When we get back we hope to show here a good collection of photographs of cobras, desert Varanus, and other species, probably not so famous, but not less fascinating. If as usual, the cobras and Varanus do not appear, at least we will have some tales to tell.

Myriopholis algeriensis, the strange Beaked Thread-snake

In the species section you can find the working file of Myriopholis algeriensis.

It is a surprising case of multiple convergent evolutions, to the fossorial apoda lizards, we have to add a family of strange fossorial snakes that look, yes… like worms.

The Leptotyphlopidae, whose only representative in Morocco and Western Sahara is Myriopholis algeriensis, although the family groups nearly one hundred species distributed in America, Africa and Asia, are real small size snakes that are extremely thin and have interesting adaptations to their way of life.

Myriopholis algeriensis. Errachidia (Morocco). 2007. Photo: © Gabri Mtnez.

Little is known about the presence of Myriopholis algeriensis in Morocco and Western Sahara more than a few individual findings; however the difficulty in detecting this species could have contributed to this more than its real distribution and abundance.

More information in the Myriopholis algeriensis file.

Blanus tingitanus, the Tangier Worm Lizard

In the species section you can find the working file of Blanus tingitanus.

Ficha de Blanus tingitanus

The taxonomy of this group of subterranean legless lizards is far from being resolved and recent studies show that the Tangier Worm Lizard are a lot closer related to the Iberian Worm Lizard than thought before, even questioning the validity of the species.

More information in the Blanus tingitanus file.

The Puff Adder or ‘monarub’

In the species section you can find the working file of Bitis arietans.

The Puff Adder or monarub (Bitis arietans) is a hefty viper with a wide distribution in Africa that presents some relic populations in Morocco, of great interest, although greatly endangered.

File of Bitis arietans

The run overs and  incontrolated captures to serve as tourist amusement in places like the Djemma El-Fna square is putting these populations close to their extintion.

Geographic range of Bitis arietans

When we travel to Marrakech or similar cities, we should remember that every coin we give to snake-charmers contributes to take two emblematic species, the Puff Adder from NW Africa and the Moroccan Black Cobra, a step closer to extinction.

If we ask the snake charmers, they will swear over the health of their children that they love the snakes and treat them like of their family, as they make a living of them. The reality is very different, and the snakes agonize several weeks, after their fangs are taken out with pliers, with their head inflamed because of the sores and the infection, dying shortly after and being replaced by other captured in the wild. This has greatly reduced the populations of both species.  In the photographic report by Michel Aymerich you can see with which extreme cruelty these animals are treated in these type of spectacles.

If vipers normaly have bad press, Bitis arietans is suposed to be the snake that more human deaths produces in África, although they are no oficial statistics, and in many countries they are no statistics at all.

More information in the Bitis arientans file.