While I was happily searching for lizards, taking notes and some 'practical' photographs of the non-artistic sort, my husband, patient as he is, was happily making friends with the local cats and dogs we found on the island. As you can see, his photographs were a lot more artistic and so I thought that both him and the little guys he's photographed surely deserve a post of their own.
We decided to hike up the mountain to one of the oldest and most historically significant villages in Ikaria, Lagada. To avoid getting lost in this undeveloped part of the island, we figured that taking a dirt road would make the climb by foot easier. We were wrong.
Despite the lack of 'scrambling', the extreme heat and unrelenting sun that day, made the walk up feel like what I would imagine hell feels like. It may come as no surprise, therefore, that we only managed to make it to the village of Vrakades, before deciding to leave the walk to Lagada for another day.
Although we didn't spend a lot of time at Vrakades, the memory of the short visit really stuck with me for three main reasons: Ice-cold local lemonade; Greek Spice Girls and wet shirts. Let me elaborate.
After walking up a mountain in direct sunlight for 3 hours, drinking any water we had on us, was like drinking boiled water. We were all longing for a cold drink - any cold drink at that point would do. Luckily, we were graced with some ice-cold local lemonade that we were able to enjoy to the sound of the Greek version of Spice Girl's 'If you wanna be my lover'. Not singing along to that would have been difficult, if it wasn't for the fact that my grasp of Klingon is probably better than my Greek.
By the time we decided to start our journey back down the mountain, it felt like a thousand degrees Celsius. So, we had to improvise. We found a tap at one of the village squares and did what any sane person in our situation would do. We took off our shirts, ran it under the cold water, put it back on and hoped that water would take as long as possible to evaporate.
Although my hiking companions would probably disagree, I found the way down the mountain much more pleasurable. I suddenly started noticing the amount of old stone goat pens along the way, some of which were still in use. It makes your imagination wander back to a time when these were full of goats and workers.
The highlight of the whole day, however, has to be Betty. During our failed attempt at reaching Lagada, we stumbled upon what I can only describe as an Oertzen's Rock Lizard Paradise. Having found this heavenly spot, I prepared myself to sit and wait in silence for the lizards to come back out. I will cover their behaviour and much more in a separate post but wanted to mention Betty.
Betty was an Oertzen's Rock Lizard (Lacerta oertzeni) who seemed to enjoy observing humans, just as much as I enjoy observing lizards. She came very close, watching me carefully at first until seemingly finally deciding that I was OK. At first, I couldn't quite understand what would make her take such a risk. All other lizards were keeping their distance, and that far up the mountain, I knew she couldn't possibly be used to having humans around.
A while later, she made her mind up. She climbed up the rock I was sat on and perched herself on a nice sunny spot. I then noticed that she wasn't only watching me, she was also keeping a close eye on another lizard. Moments later, she caught herself a nice juicy ant that was passing by. And that's when it all clicked! She was using me, or more, she was using the other lizard's fear of approaching me to hunt and sunbathe in its territory. Clever, clever girl!
Last time we were in Ikaria, we talked about visiting one of the many famous hot springs around the island but got too distracted by the beautiful walks to actually do it. This time, we made a point of finding one and having a relaxing bath. So, we set out to do some research on the geothermal springs available around the island. It was during this research that we discovered a very interesting fact about Ikaria's hot springs - they are amongst the most radioactive in the world.
Radioactivity in geothermal springs is nothing new. In fact, you can find them all over the world. However, the level of radioactivity recorded in Ikaria was rather high when compared to some other places in the world and it seems to be mainly due to radon (depending on the trajectory of the water to the surface). As far as I can tell, it was noticed and recorded for the first time in 1936 by M. Pertesis and many islanders claim that the springs have healing powers. Although there seems to be a lack of supporting studies to this claim, I did find an interesting piece of research carried out by G. Trabidou and H. Florou for the Radiation Protection Dosimetry in December 2010 that aimed at assessing the risk of radiation exposure to the population coming from the spring water in Ikaria. I am by no means an expert in geology or radiology so will speak no further of any benefits or risks from bathing in these springs. I can only tell you that despite the hot weather, bathing in a natural coastal hot spring was pretty magical.
Apparently, we chose one of the hottest springs in the island where the water can reach temperatures of 58 degrees Celsius and is situated in Lefkada. I've seen people on the internet complain about the lack of warnings. You see, there's no spa around it or grand entrances. The path down to the rocky area by the sea where the spring is located is barely marked at all - which only makes it that much more special to me. Yes, you have to be careful not to go in via the hottest parts. Yes, you're essentially in the sea, so if the sea is rough that day, you will have a hard time getting in and enjoying yourself. However, whilst there I was imagining how people, years and years ago, would have enjoyed the pleasures of a natural hot spring by the sea without a care in the world for health and safety or levels of radiation.
The drive back was rather uneventful. We were all quite relaxed and proudly sporting a few cuts from trying to get in and out of the spring. We had to slow the car down to an almost stop in order to allow a very unimpressed and lazy lizard (Lacerta oertzeni) to cross the road and eventually returned home with a smile on our faces. If there's one piece of advice I would give you, however, is that if you are as pasty white as me, to perhaps make sure that you visit the spring before you get so terribly sunburned that you feel as though your unattractively red skin is in direct contact with the sun.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this trip has given me a new appreciation for entomology. Insects are absolutely fascinating. Whilst checking a thriving Levant Water Frog (Pelophylax bedriadae) population in the north-west area of Ikaria, I suddenly noticed the incredible behaviour of some of the dragonflies around the natural pools. They were doing what looked like an impressive handstand and it got me thinking, why? What's the purpose of the handstand? Why were so many of them taking the same position at that exact time? Was it part of a courtship ritual? Were they preparing for something? I just didn't know and I couldn't quite rest until I figured out. So I did what I do best - I researched.
I am a regular reader of Gil Wizen's blog but it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't actually read any posts about dragonflies. In fact, I suddenly realised that despite encountering thousands of dragonflies on my herpetological outings, I had never read much about them other than the limited exposure that you get when studying Biology. Well, it was time to change that. I got back home, transferred the photos and data collected that day to my trusted external hard drive, made myself a cup of tea and spent a good few hours reading about them. It was also the perfect opportunity to try identifying the dragonflies I had managed to photograph.
It was during this reading session that I came across a blog post by The Dragonfly Woman which mentioned the term 'obelisk posture' - a term that sounded a bit familiar to me. And that's when the behaviour of the dragonflies at the time began to make sense. Ah, the beauty of finally understanding something - even if only partially. It's my favourite thing about science - that nagging feeling of needing to know, the drive to understand followed by a sudden rush of pleasure at understanding something only to then realise that you now have even more questions. It's magical really.
When I captured these shots of the dragonflies in the somewhat modified obelisk posture, it was very hot. Despite it nearing sundown, the air around us still made it feel like we were in an oven and the sunrays were still pretty strong. Although the obelisk posture seems to be used by different species for a multitude of purposes, given the slight inclination of the Roseate Skimmer shown above and the position of the sun at the time, I am inclined to believe that they were indeed trying to regulate their body temperature by reducing the area directly exposed to solar radiation.
Looking for the same sort of relief from the sun as the dragonflies, I headed down to the beach for a swim armed with my goggles and flippers. While the sun was slowly going down above the water, I went looking for whatever I could still see at the bottom of the sea. Usually, that entails a school of small fish or a crab or two. This time, however, I was rewarded with what looked very much like a juvenile Mediterranean Moray (Muraena helena) Eel. Although it looked less than impressed with my attentions, I was thrilled to see it. I mean, what's more exciting than unexpectedly seeing what looks like a sea snake for a herpetology fanatic?
Heading back to our temporary home, I started thinking about how lucky I was to be able to see such amazing wildlife in the flesh. I also started thinking about my own little guys back home and just how much I was missing them. So I dropped Tyler a message to check how things were going. Tyler is looking after Casper for us while we are here and kindly sent me a couple of photos and videos of our little guy having fun and enjoying his little break from us. It filled me with pride, joy and longing. Not long to go now and I'll be (weirdly gladly) having to deal with a poop stained harness myself.
My mother-in-law is one of those superwomen. You know, the ones that make your feminist-self fill with pride and aspire to be like. The independent type that travels all over the world on their own and comes back with amazing stories that are told with an incredible amount of humility. She also seems to have an amazing gift for giving tips on travel gear. That's where the sandals come in.
Three years ago when we were planning our first trip to Ikaria, she told us to get some walking Ecco sandals. I must admit that I am not a fan of sandals in general. I was even less impressed by the idea of hiking for hours and hours wearing them. However, having previously had other great pieces of advice from her, I thought why not? Let's have a look at the Ecco sandals.
At first, they looked incredibly unappealing to me - something that my grandpa would wear with white socks to go fishing. Then, I tried them on...and everything changed. Dramatic much? Yes, well...to me they were pretty revolutionary. Being able to cross pools and streams without having to faff about with wet socks? Check. Easy to put on and take off? Check. Comfortable for 8+ hour hikes in challenging rocky terrain? Check again. I became so fond of them that I even began to like the look of them. The only downside that I could so far find, is the incredibly unattractive tan marks that you get on your feet. But then again, were I wearing normal shoes, I would end up with some oddly pale feet anyway so, meh.
Ikaria has a healthy wild Balkan terrapin (Mauremys rivulata) population. They can often be found at this time of the year in some of the bigger natural pools. Some of these pools are located by the beach and you can clearly see that the water flows from the mountains during colder months would join the sea. The Balkan terrapins found on these pools, although wild, are somewhat used to human interaction. It's obvious that they are used to being fed and so associate humans standing by the edge of the water as a potentially good thing. Unsurprisingly, these are much easier to photograph.
If you head inland via the canyons, you can normally find much clearer, colder and hidden natural pools between rocks. Unlike their beach babe counterparts, the Terrapins found in those pools are very shy. Therefore, to get a good look at them, you need to sit tight and wait. It was while sitting on the above-mentioned sandals and waiting under the scorching sun for the shy wild Balkan terrapins to come out of the water to bask, that I completely by chance spotted a Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).
The Kingfisher's blue and orange colours were so bright that they were a welcome change from intensely looking at the deep green pools while trying to spot some dull coloured frogs and terrapins. It also reminded me of my own bright red skin and the high probability of contracting skin cancer lest I find some shade. So I got up, picked up my trusted sandals, and headed down the canyon towards the sea for a swim.
The thing about searching for reptiles and amphibians is that you always come across other wildlife. Some of the species you find, such as dragonflies, are fairly easy to photograph. Others, such as birds of prey, tend to be a little harder if you don't have the correct equipment.
This usually doesn't bother me too much. Most of the time, I'm happy with just being able to see them in the flesh, albeit from a distance. Other times, I wish I had all the equipment necessary to be able to capture certain moments - or better yet, some species.
Most people will have certain favourite 'animals' that they admire. For some, such as a friend of mine, it's sharks. For others, such as myself, it's pretty much anything ectothermic. However, when it comes to mammals, I too have a favourite - bats. I get this giddy feeling whenever I even get a hint of one and I can't even describe the level of excitement when I actually see one live. I also always think to myself how I wish I could photograph them to capture that memory. And this is exactly how I feel every sunset in Ikaria. As it is, I'm left with the only other thing I could possibly do given my situation - I start researching them.
Most sources, especially those from ecotourism websites that talk about the flora and fauna of Ikaria, mention that three species of bats can be found on the island and that they are all protected. Although I suppose that the low number of species could be entirely plausible, the sources these articles cite are fairly old. While trying to locate more recent surveys, I came across the Castle Hill Ecology website that mentioned a bat research survey led by Greena Ecological Consultancy across different Greek Islands. The one in Ikaria was carried out in September 2014 and they reported that during the survey, they could identify at least 12 different species of bats. These are:
To identify the different species, a combination of different surveying methods were used but they were essentially made up of trappings and sound recordings. It is no surprise that Ikaria would host such a variety of species. The island offers an ideal habitat with plenty of prey, sea caves, old mines, flowing streams and natural pools. As is expected, however, it also has some of the usual urban threats as well as a particular threat of the feline variety - cats. Like many other places in Greece, Ikaria has its fair share of cats. These tend to congregate near human settlements and so bats that reside near these areas can suffer and unfortunately become cat toys.
Nevertheless, the results of the survey were very encouraging and if I had the correct equipment to set up a time-lapse video during sundown, I would be able to share just how amazing these little guys are when hunting. Oh well, perhaps another trip to Ikaria is in order ;)
This probably applies to most people that live in the UK, but I suddenly noticed that I usually don't see much of my very pale feet unless I'm on holiday. In fact, I don't really think about them much either on a day to day basis. Therefore, I never thought about what the shape of my feet may tell me about my heritage. I can honestly say that I have done no research on this topic whatsoever. However, if the results of my husband's 5 minute googling of the topic are accurate, we both have Egyptian feet. I'm not sure what that means but I choose to believe that it means I was actually meant to have glorious easily tanned skin. As it is, I have so far been left with some less than attractive 'tan' (red) lines. Hiking doesn't exactly leave you with nice tan lines.
Despite the blazing sun, we are powering through and have been rewarded with some stunning views and some even more stunning wildlife. During this time of the year, everything in Ikaria is a bit dry but you can still find these magical natural pools deep within the mountain. Not only do these flowing natural pools provide a place to swim and cool down, they are also what I like to call 'Levant Water Frog Paradise' (Pelophylax bedriagae). If you're lucky, and the pool is big enough, you may also find some elusive Balkan Terrapins (Mauremys rivulata). Don't worry, I will write detailed blog posts on these species.
The short hike we had planned may have taken a whopping 8 hours but we did eventually get back to the house, albeit rather sunburned and exhausted. We showered, lathered ourselves up with as much after-sun and aloe vera gel as we could and headed down the hill to the local taverna. There, we spoiled ourselves to a generous amount of wine and what can only be described as our weights worth of the most amazing aubergine salad we have ever had.
The week leading up to our trip to Ikaria was quite possibly one of the most stressful weeks of my life. Perhaps it's not surprising, therefore, that I am so very relieved and glad to be here now.
Last time we came to Ikaria, we flew from Athens. Despite being a smallish and rather unpopular island when it comes to tourism, Ikaria does have a very small airport. This time, however, we decided to take the ferry with Helenic Seaways. The ferry departed at 7:30 am and took about 7 hours to get here. It stopped at a couple of other islands before reaching Ikaria and heading towards its final destination – Patmos. The views, in general, were pretty spectacular and to see the different islands ‘grow’ as the ferry approached their ports was a nice bonus.
Arriving at Ikaria by ferry, however, added its own amount of charm to the trip. Seeing how things work at the port, its workers and the incredible simplicity and lack of bureaucracy was truly refreshing. The weather was unsurprisingly a dream and I cannot tell you just how very simple and uncomplicated it is to rent a car – you pay cash on pick up, no card details are exchanged and you drop the car off unlocked at the airport when you leave. This is a blessing in itself considering how much of a nightmare hiring a car in Europe can be!
The tiny village where we are staying has a tiny beach that is rather popular with nudists. Although I’m not quite that brave myself, I find the lack of ‘judgement’ and relaxed atmosphere a welcome change.
After arriving at the house, unpacking and preparing to go for an amazing meal at our favourite local taverna, we did the one thing we’d been dreaming about for months – we picked up our flippers, goggles and a towel to share and went swimming in the Aegean.
Out of all reptiles in existence, tortoises are one of the most widely kept as pets. This is not surprising considering that unlike other reptiles, they are perceived as mostly docile and non-threatening to humans. There's also, of course, the cuteness factor. Unfortunately, humans seem to be just as uninformed regarding their needs and husbandry as they are of any other reptilian order.
Before I start ranting about 'bad humans', let me give you a brief overview of the Chelonoidis carbonaria, commonly known as Red-footed Tortoise. If like me you too grew up in Brazil, the 'Jabuti-Piranga' as most Brazilians call them, are not exactly rare. Unfortunately, as expected of such a successfully captive kept species, wild populations are decreasing due to loss of habitat and the capture of wild individuals to meet the demands of the exotic pet trade.
Their habitat varies from rain forests to savanna areas and they can be found through most of northern South America (though going as far south as Rio de Janeiro in eastern Brazil), Central America and the Caribbean - where they have been introduced to many of the islands. Although there's a lack of data to confirm an average lifespan, both males and females reach sexual maturity at around 5 years old. They are diurnal and rather sedentary compared to other species.
Although their diet consists mainly of fruits and flowers, they are also known to consume dead and living foliage as well as carrion. As there's a lack of data on their lifespan, it is difficult to specify the size this species can reach. However, sexual dimorphism has been observed, with males being larger than females. If you'd like to know more about morphological variations and sexual dimorphism in C. carbonaria, I have included a great paper published in the Brazilian Journal of Biology in my references below - the paper was published in English and Brazilian Portuguese. It is worth noting that the C. carbonaria is more widely spread in the wild than its counterpart C. denticulada. The paper I mentioned above covers both species.
In Brazil, for instance, the C. carboaria is protected by IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources). The sale and breeding of the species is restricted and you could receive a hefty fine for keeping it without the correct documentation. Despite the protection, they are still widely kept as pets illegally. As expected, they end up receiving a pretty pore excuse for 'care' in the hands of most humans.
As is unfortunately the case with most pet reptiles, many captive kept C. carbonaria suffer from calcium deficiencies and metabolic bone disease (MBD) as well as parasites (internal and external) and respiratory infections. The C. carbonaria can also suffer from shell rot and something called 'carapace pyramiding'. If you look at the three images above - especially the one used as the header for this post - you will notice that the carapace of the C. carbonaria I am holding is forming little pyramids.
This is something that occurs in many captive-kept tortoises and is not reversible. Although most cases, unless extreme, don't pose much of problem for the tortoise, it does give an indication of the conditions in which the tortoise is being kept as well as its diet. In fact, the effects of overfeeding and a high protein intake have been extensively discussed when it comes to the occurrence of pyramiding in tortoises. I would also like to highlight that, in addition to the wrong diet, dry conditions are also a contributing factor to pyramiding . If you look at the image of the wild C. carbonaria to the right, you will notice that this adult shows no signs of pyramiding.
The reason I am focusing so much on the 'Pyramiding' issue is that it can be clearly observed in the C. carbonaria individual shown in the first three photographs. The photographs, in fact, clearly illustrate the problems with the husbandry 'techniques' being applied to this little red-footed tortoise. You see, compared to other captive tortoises in Brazil, this individual has a pretty good life. It has space, seems to be pretty comfortable with its 'territory' and is bathed often to address the lack of humidity issue. However, it also has lots of company. From other tortoises, you might ask? Well, no. It has lots of company from cats and its entire diet is essentially made up of cat food.
This is a problem for two main reasons. Firstly, housing tortoises domestically with cats, or any other animals really, may lead to intestinal blockage due to fur ingestion overtime (thank you Karen for the tip). Secondly, as I mentioned before, these tortoises' diet in the wild is mostly made up of fruits and flowers. If you just have a look at the back of the package of any standard cat food, the level of protein they contain is pretty high. Now, imagine this 13-year-old individual, being fed cat food and housed with cats for almost its entire life. Sad, I know.
Nonetheless, unaware of just how bad her current situatio is, and its impact on her health in the future, this individual seems pretty happy.
References & Sources:
- Barros, MS., Resende, LC., Silva, AG. & Ferreira Junior, PD. (2012). Morphological variations and sexual dimorphism in Chelonoidis carbonaria and Chelonoidis denticulada. Brazilian Journal of Biology 72:153-161.
If you are lucky enough to have ever witnessed a wild common toad hunting, you will understand what I mean when I say that they are pretty endearing creatures. They have an incredibly entertaining 'walking' style that never fails to make me laugh.
Towards the end of my trip to Slovenia, I encountered the most gorgeous common toad specimen. As I was not actively searching for this species, it was a really nice surprise - mostly because the encounter reminded me just how much I enjoy observing them.
The toad showed up in the garden of the place where we were staying. It had rained quite a lot during the day and by 8:30 that evening, the garden looked like a slug & snail fest. The toad was too busy hunting snails and slugs to realise that I had already spotted it and was close enough to pick it up without much effort... not that common toads are difficult to capture under normal circumstances but it makes for a nice tale.
Not long after I picked it up, the toad (understandably frightened) released water from its water bladder. This prompted my surprised (and slightly disgusted) husband to jump three feet away from me and say 'Oh no, it's peed on you'. This defense mechanism is fairly common and although it isn't exactly the same as actual urine, the 'peeing on you' seems like the easiest way to explain it.
You will notice in these two photographs (sorry for the bad quality!) that I am wearing gloves to handle the toad. Let me firstly clear things up - you CANNOT get warts from handling toads (yes, some people really do ask that question). The real reason I am wearing gloves is to protect the toad from any harmful chemicals I most likely had on my hands and NOT to protect myself. As I mentioned before, the encounter was a surprise and although you cannot see it in the photographs, I was pretty sunburnt. I knew that my hands were covered in body lotion and, as amphibians have permeable skin, in order to protect the little toad, I put on the first pair of gloves that I could find. Obviously, they weren't the best fit but they did the trick.
A curious fact about the common toad is that they can actually secret large amounts of a distasteful white substance from their skin when threatened - although this doesn't seem to affect some predators such as Grass Snakes. Their eggs and tadpoles are also thought to be distasteful - a fact that is believed to contribute to its successful survival rate when compared to other amphibian species. It is also likely to somewhat explain the wide range of locations in which the species can be found.
Unfortunately, this species tends to be attacked by Flesh Flies (Lucilia bufonivora) - its latin name is certainly a clue! The fly lays its eggs on the toad's skin and once the eggs hatch, the little maggots will often enter the toad's body via its nose and eat the toad from within. Quite the image huh?!
On a lighter note, the good news is that this species is not very difficult to find. If you are in the UK, depending on where you live, you can even encounter it in your own garden! If you go looking for them, try and remember a couple of important things: 1) Common Toads are nocturnal! 2) Record your sightings!
Like many other small gecko species, the Hemidactylus turcicus is one of those species that we tend to take for granted. The type that most people will see on the walls of the house they rented for their holidays but never really stop to think about.
Growing up in Brazil, I would often see other species of the same genus such as the H. mabouia and the H. frenatus around the house. Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say that when I was around 6 years old, I did capture one and tried to keep it as my pet whilst "feeding" it vegetables. However, as I grew, I became more interested in their behaviour and started to study their biology more closely.
Most Brazilians will look at these small geckos and call them by the exact same common name - lagartixa. It doesn't matter what type of gecko it is. If it is on the wall and small, it's a lagartixa. This sort of 'non-reaction' is what drove me to write about the H. turcicus in the first place. When people think about reptiles they will often imagine big snakes and lizards. They will say things like 'I don't like reptiles' but wouldn't bat an eyelash at the little geckos on the wall. These tiny little creatures are reptiles too - and they are fascinating!
I encountered my first H. turcicus during a trip to Ikaria, one of the Greek islands. In my head, I immediately started comparing their colouration, size and behaviour to the tropical species with which I am familiar. The similarities, as expected, are many - they are insectivores, active during the evening or night and can be found near human dwellings on dry stone walls. They tend to hide under rocks during the day or inside cracks on the walls. Like many other geckos, they tend to sit near light sources that attract moths and other insects. You can sometimes find a small group of the H. turcicus banded together near light bulbs appraising potential prey. Hayley & Blackshaw (2015) had a research article published in The Herpetological Bulletin on how habitat structure may affect the foraging behaviour of the H. turcicus that is definitely worth a read.
Although they have adhesive toes that help them cling to walls and rocks whilst maintaining even an upside down position, the adhesive pads don't extend to the end of the toes. Instead, they stop short of the tip of the toe where a small claw helps the geckos grip to rougher surfaces. This is illustrated in Figure 1 (Arnold & Ovenden, 2002, plate 20) where the diagram clearly shows where the adhesive pads end and a little claw sticks out from the tip of the gecko's toe. The photograph in Figure 2 gives us a better idea of what this looks like in real life.
It is no secret that instances of cannibalism occur in many reptile and amphibian species worldwide. Geckos are no exception to the rule. For instance, David Soulsby noted evidence of cannibalism in one of H. turcicus' most similar species - the Common House Gecko (H. frenatus) in his book 'Animal Cannibalism: The Dark Side of Evolution'. Although he did not mention H. turcicus specifically in his book, it is not a stretch to imagine that such a successive invasive species would display instances of cannibalism. Other gecko species have been reported to prey on smaller gecko species as well as smaller individuals of their own species. Parves & Alam (2015) highlight this occurrence in their paper published in The Herpetological Bulletin with H. flaviviridis as an example. As they noted, however, an individual's size would greatly affect its ability to predate on other individuals.
As some types of geckos are commonly kept as pets nowadays, it may come as no surprise that some species can produce a high pitched sound similar to a squeak when they feel threatened. Males of the H. turcicus species are known to be fairly territorial and warn-off competitors through a series of clicks and squeaks. It's important to note that these squeaky sounds are also used in a range of other social situations such as calling and attracting potential mates.
Females tend to lay a couple of eggs 2-3 times a year. They usually hide their clutches under rocks or in cracks where the eggs stay for 6-12 weeks before hatching. Younglings tend to be translucent pink in colour with a banded tail.
Next time you spot a gecko on the wall, try to get a good look at it - maybe take a couple of photos if you can. This will help you identify the gecko species and will make these encounters all the more interesting!
- Arnold, N. & Ovenden, D. (2002). A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. London, Harper Collins Publisher.
- Soulsby, D. (2013). Animal Cannibalism: The Dark Side of Evolution. Sheffield, 5m Publishing.
- Mattison, C. (2014). Nature Guide: Snakes and Other Reptiles and Amphibians. London, Dorling Kindersley.
- Haley, T. & Blackshaw, R. (2015). Does Habitat Structure Affect Foraging Success in the Mediterranean House Gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus?. The Herpetological Bulletin 133: 10-12.
- Parves, N. & Alam, S.M.I. (2015). Hemidactylus flaviviridis: Predation on Congeneric Hemidactylus frenatus in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Herpetological Bulletin 132: 28-29.
At the end of April I went back to Sao Paulo in Brazil for my cousin's wedding and to visit my family. It'd been nearly three years since the last time I'd been to Brazil, so as you can imagine, lots had changed.
I grew up in Sao Paulo - a city that developed way too quickly for its own good and without the much needed planning it deserves. However, despite the changes, it was very familiar. The constant rush of people, the incredibly large number of cars and subsequent bad traffic, the lack of green areas and the most heartbreaking part of it - the large amount of street dogs. I may sound too critical of my hometown and that is exactly what I am. I criticise it because I love it and appreciate its potential.
During my last days in Sao Paulo, we went to a place called Aquario Itaquera. Please note that this is not the famous Aquarium of Sao Paulo. I used to go to Aquario Itaquera very often when I was a child - my family and I refer to Aquario Itaquera simply as Aquario. It is difficult to describe exactly what it is, as it has a bit of everything, but it is mainly a large commercial space with a small theme park included. Therefore, as you can imagine, it is a paradise for kids. You get to see animals, different types of plants and go on the park's rides all in the same place. I had really good childhood memories from Aquario. However, as a child, you often miss the signs that things aren't quite right. In fact, most adult Brazilians that grow up in that reality may not notice anything wrong with it at all.
I love animals. My idea of a great day out when I was a child would be to visit a big pet shop like Aquario. Trust me, when you grow up in a massively urbanised city, anything that offers you a glimpse of an animal is great in your little innocent eyes. However, I am no longer a child and after studying ecology and seeing first hand the effects of bad animal care and wildlife trafficking, I can no longer enjoy what they offer. It was a big disappointment and completely ruined my childhood memories.
Brazil is currently going through a huge politically induced economical crisis - anyone from a developing country will know that most times politics and corruption are pretty much synonyms. The crisis forces people to find any way they can to make money and so once again, we humans use animals for our purposes.
To be fair to the efforts made by the local authorities and IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), things have indeed changed since I last remember it. Fifteen years ago or so, wild caught reptiles and other exotics were sold just before the entrance of the Aquario by many individuals. There were so many sellers of wild caught exotics that the prices were ridiculously low. I remember them pilling around the queue of cars that were about to enter Aquario offering little tortoises, tiny baby iguanas, etc. I have a very vivid memory of these three tiny red footed tortoises being pushed inside the car towards me through the open window and wanting to take them home so badly!
During my recent visit, I noticed that there were no obvious illegal exotics sellers around - note the 'obvious' in the sentence. However, there were 'private' sellers outside with boxes full of puppies and kittens. The worst part of it was the state of said puppies and kittens. You could tell that they'd been crammed in those boxes on show for the entire day. These were not happy and excitable puppies and kittens - they were sad. So sad, no amount of baby talk could get them to even lift their ears. I'd have tried to take a photo but I know what these 'private' sellers are like. They do not like cameras and I am rather fond of my life. So, I went inside the Aquario.
What met me inside was almost as horrifying. The actual 'Aquarium' side of it wasn't all that bad - after all, the place is famous for the sale of many different species of fish. The tanks were clean and although some of them were crammed, the turnaround of fish in that place is truly impressive. If only these fish were well kept when they got to their new homes, I wouldn't have that much of a problem with it. What shocked me, however, was a separate section of 'Aquario'. The section named 'Pet Shop'. Yes, in English. It is a pretty big space mainly taken by shelves full of products relating to the care of pets. From the entrance you can hear the distant chirping noise of birds singing - and can immediately tell that there are quite a few of them. At the very back of the shop, you are led to rows of small pilled up cages filled with different types of birds for sale. I already hate the idea of birds in cages not being able to spread their wings and fly. But what met me, made me want to cry. Some of the cages were so full that the birds were fighting for a space to stand that wasn't the cage's floor. And let me tell you, the floor was dirty. So dirty I am pretty sure that considering the amount of birds, it had been a few days since they last cleaned it. I asked one of the shop employees if they moved the birds to a bigger cage for the night and with a very confused face she said 'of course not'.
Now, bear in mind that this is a licensed establishment that can legally sell these animals and should therefore, be regulated as to how the animals are kept. The scene was so sad that I couldn't stay looking for long. So I moved on to the rodent section and felt like crying all over again. The first scene that met me were two glass tanks packed with Syrian Hamsters. No exercise wheel, no hides available and certainly no space. The only things available were a bowl of food and a small water bowl that needed a good clean in the middle. If you have ever researched the care of Syrian Hamsters, you will know that these are solitary creatures and so after a certain age, they should be kept apart. Although the majority of the hamsters in the tanks were pretty young - after all, they are up for sale - some of them were already way past the age of being kept in groups.
There were other types of hamsters too. All crammed in tiny spaces with no toys, hide or means of exercising available. The areas housing the rabbits and guinea pigs, also needed a good clean. All in all, the visit was a complete disappointment. I started remembering my trips to Aquario as a child and realised that what I was seeing was nothing new. That had always been the case - I was just too young at the time to know that the state those animals were being kept wasn't acceptable or fair on them.
You could say 'Oh but things are slowly changing' or 'At least it changed a little' but that is not good enough. It has been more than 15 years and things have barely improved at all. I think about the generations of birds, dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits that have been put through the same terrible conditions, and I feel ashamed to be human.
I love Brazil. It is an incredibly beautiful country and this beauty is mainly due to its flora and fauna. We need to cherish and look after it because when everyone starts saying 'what a shame...', it will already be too late.