From the 17th until the 22nd of May 2023

Situated in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin, the herpetofauna of Cyprus is characterized by many species that are found in the Middle East as well. Being an island, it has a history of long isolation and is home to a number of endemic species and subspecies. When researching where to take the students of my Herpetological Study Group on this years excursion abroad, I usually look at destinations in Southern Europe which have affordable flights and where we can observe a whole range of different animals. The flights to Cyprus were not that expensive and the presence of five endemic species which were new to me, made the island a very appealing destination. 

I set a plan where we would concentrate to find representatives of each species group so the students could meet all sorts of different animals. But the main focus was of course to find the five endemic species. Four of those are very easy but the fifth proved a tricky one...
During our trip we experienced some very unusual weather. We were expecting hot and dry conditions, but during our stay the skies were largely overcast, a strong cold wind blew from the northwest and we even had the occasional rain shower. Not always the best conditions and combined with a young and inexperienced team we had a hard time finding snakes. That said, every day we persisted in our search and every day we found something new to our list. And with a very good last day we had an excellent time on the island!

The team from left to right: Jones, Nynke, Tijmen, Mette, Willem, Sven, Tieme, me and Sven.
The team from left to right: Jones, Nynke, Tijmen, Mette, Willem, Sven, Tieme, me and Sven.

17th of May 2023

Late in the morning we met at Schiphol airport from where we flew with Transavia to Paphos. With only a minor delay we had a smooth flight and could quickly be on our way and drive towards our accommodation. After dropping our luggage at the Panklitos Apartments we walked into town for dinner and also found our first Eastern Thin-toed Geckos (Mediodactylus orientalis).

18th of May 2023

We woke up early to have breakfast at the parking lot of the Lidl. During our drive north along the coast we spotted several dead snakes on the tarmac such as vipers and an Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus). Our first stop was the Avakas Gorge where we spotted many of the lizard species of the island already. Most common were the endemic Cyprus Starred Agamas (Laudakia cypriaca) and Troodos Lizards (Phoenicolacerta troodica), but we also saw Bridled Skinks (Heremites vittatus), Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizards (Acanthodactylus schreiberi), Snake-eyed Lacertids (Ophisops elegans) and the first Cyprus Water Frogs (Pelophylax cypriensis) in the stream. Despite the crowds and a school visiting we still enjoyed the place and we had lunch at the parking lot. There we ran into the same school class again ("Get in line children!") and Nynke was dubbed Bella Bonita by a ten-year old boy. Afterwards we drove further north to a nice deserted beach. It was very windy though and the sea incredibly rough. Waves were towering even over me and we had a lot of fun being knocked over by the waves. Behind the beach we found many Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizards. In the last light of the day we drove to Peyia to try and find the recently discovered Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus, but only found Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Eastern Thin-toed Gecko (Mediodactylus orientalis) and Budak's Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus budaki). After dinner in Coral Bay we drove inland to search for amphibians. We quickly saw both gecko species and Middle East Black Tarantulas (Chaetopelma olivaceum) before we heard loud calls coming from the valley below. Along a stream we could enjoy a lovely chorus of Lemon-yellow Tree Frogs (Hyla savignyi) while Freshwater Crabs (Potamon hippocratis) were foraging in the deeper parts of the stream. Along the banks we spotted two Hares (Lepus europaeus) before we called it a night. 

19th of May 2022

Breakfast at the Lidl was again excellent and afterwards we drove over winding roads and past many roadblocks to the northwestern part of the island. There we ventured into a beautiful streambed and again easily saw lizards such as Cyprus Starred Agama (Laudakia cypriaca), Bridled Skink (Heremites vittatus), Troodos Lizard (Phoenicolacerta troodica), Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus schreiberi) and Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans). I walked ahead of the group to keep an eye out for any snakes and managed to catch two Black Whip Snakes (Dolichophis jugularis) which were actively hunting for lizards. The much desired vipers were nowhere to be found sadly, but in a small freshwater pool with Cyprus Water Frogs (Pelophylax cypriensis) some of the group had a refreshing dip. We also practiced sneezing with our heads held still where we had some mixed results.

When it got a bit hot we drove further north and tried to reach the stunning beaches situated at the east of the Akamas Peninsula. That turned out a bit different than we anticipated. The unpaved road leading there got more and more narrow with no crash barriers on the sides. It got steep and at some points the road was just bare rock with deep gullies carved into it by the rain. One one side I had a vertical wall of stone and on the other I could look vertically down into the sea. I caught myself thinking "I hope we don't get any oncoming traffic" when we got oncoming traffic. I had to reverse 100 meters over this terrible road to find a spot where two cars could barely pass, making sure not to tumble down. I managed though, let the car pass and just when we reached the dangerous point again we met a second car. Great! Again we managed, found a place to turn and quickly left this dangerous road behind us. We found a beach which was a little easier to reach luckily not that far away. After a much needed swim in the Mediterranean Sea and some snorkeling, we drove to some hills further inland where we found a very promising spot for flipping. It only delivered some of the common species such as Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Eastern Thin-toed Gecko (Mediodactylus orientalis) and some Budak's Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus budaki). We found dinner at the Yialos Restaurant where we enjoyed both atmosphere and food a lot.

Afterwards we ventured into the same stream bed we had visited in the morning. No vipers again, but Tijmen and I both found a Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). Always a highlight for everybody! In the distance we heard a Scops Owl (Otus scops) and Egyptian Fruitbats (Rousettus aegyptiacus). On the way out Mette found our first Cyprus Green Toad (Bufotes cypriensis) providing an excellent ending to another exciting day.

20th of May 2023

Today was the day to try and observe one of the more tricky snakes to find on the island. With a heavily overcast sky we drove into the Troodos Mountains where we arrived at some pristine habitat after a long drove over the winding roads. We hiked up the steep trail leading into the mountains when the sun finally came through. With the weather forecast predicting rain I knew that now was our time to shine. Cyprus Starred Agamas (Laudakia cypriaca)Budak's Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus budaki), Bridled Skinks (Heremites vittatus)Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizards (Acanthodactylus schreiberi)Snake-eyed Lacertids (Ophisops elegans) and Troodos Lizards (Phoenicolacerta troodica) started to come out and bask along the trail. We spread out over the slopes and it wasn't long before I spotted a small slender black snake laying out in the open. I couldn't believe my eyes as a Cyprus Whip Snake (Hierophis cypriensis) was watching me.  I made a jump and saw the snake dart between my hands and legs and with the blink of an eye it was gone. Frustrating? Quite so! Then the sun was gone and it immediately got cold. We waited a bit to see how the weather would develop and luckily we would get another chance. The sun came out once more and we spread out again. Tijmen spotted a second Cyprus Whip Snake, but was also unable to catch it. When it started to drizzle a bit we headed back to the car and practiced sneezing as loud as possible which kept our spirits up. During the drive to the next spot it was pouring down, but luckily it stopped when we reached a big dam in the mountains. Although this is a known spot for Grass Snake, the ponds around the dam were dry and the weather not suited to find any active snakes. I would have liked to see the Grass Snakes here as they are known to be quite variable, and eventhough they are proven to not be an endemic subspecies after all. Maybe on a return visit. We drove down south to Limasol where we had a very disappointing dinner at the beach. Luckily our search afterwards made us forget the tiny portions and with ease we found more Mediterranean Chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon), Cyprus Green Toads (Bufotes cypriensis), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)Eastern Thin-toed Gecko (Mediodactylus orientalis), a cheeky Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the cutest Long-eared Hedgehog (Hemiechinus auritus). 

21st of May 2023

The early mornings and late evenings started to take their toll which caused some delays, but when we arrived at some promising looking orange groves I got my hopes up. The place looked excellent and both Tijmen and I both found a big Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis) which we were unable to catch sadly. But the lizards were out in force and we saw many Cyprus Starred Agamas (Laudakia cypriaca)Budak's Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus budaki)Bridled Skinks (Heremites vittatus)Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizards (Acanthodactylus schreiberi)Snake-eyed Lacertids (Ophisops elegans) and Troodos Lizards (Phoenicolacerta troodica). At the edge of a stream both Tieme and I found a big and smelly Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata), but no sign of the vipers apart from a friendly farmer telling us excitedly how he kills them... 

The flipping site we discovered two days earlier also didn't deliver so it was of to the beach as it was getting hot. When we arrived, the sun went the moment we set foot on the beach and we even got some rain again. We decided to leave and drive around a bit trying to find things to flip and see what we could find. We saw many Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) and a stunning Roller (Coracias garrulus) on the electricity lines. Under tarp we found several Black Whip Snakes (Dolichophis jugularis) and a pretty Cyprus Green Toad (Bufotes cypriensis). At the Yialos Restaurant we enjoyed some proper food before going back inland again. When we arrived at the next spot we heared many Lemon-yellow Tree Frogs (Hyla savignyi) and Cyprus Water Frogs (Pelophylax cypriensis) calling and found a Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetinus) which was hit by a car not long before we arrived. Such a sad sight to see this stunning animal like this. We walked around the fields for some kilometers, but only found Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Eastern Thin-toed Gecko (Mediodactylus orientalis), a small Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) and some more Bridled Skinks (Heremites vittatus).

22nd of May 2023

We had some other plans for our final day on the island, but we all decided that driving back into the mountains was the only sane option. We needed to find the final endemic of the island! This time the weather was quite different and the sun was out in force. Cyprus Starred Agamas (Laudakia cypriaca)Budak's Snake-eyed Skinks (Ablepharus budaki), Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizards (Acanthodactylus schreiberi)Snake-eyed Lacertids (Ophisops elegans) and Troodos Lizards (Phoenicolacerta troodica) were running around the trail and soon so were we. We made three teams and while most of the students searched around the place where Tijmen found a Cyprus Whip Snake before, Tieme and I focussed on my sighting. Willem and Mette searched along the path and it wasn't long before they spotted one. Again we were unable to catch it, but their search strategy seemed to work. Tieme and I also started to search along the path because that is also where most of the lizards were. We were walking side by side back to the students when Tieme called my name. I looked and immediately saw a small slender black snake laying stretched out in the open, just like I saw two days ago. My heart started racing and as slowly as possible I approached the snake. I got surprisingly close and when it darted off, I made the jump down the slope and into the thorny shrubs. It took me three grabs but then I had it! I busted a knee, my shirt was torn and my hands and arms full of cuts and splinters but I could not have been happier. Finally we could observe a Cyprus Whip Snake (Hierophis cypriensis) up close. Their slender build, elongated snout, long tail and subtle pattern of white spots that appear when the snake inhales makes this endemic a true gem of the island. I found these snakes much more reminiscent of a Platyceps than a Hierophis but maybe future genetic studies will reveal their origins. We called the students back and of course they were also over the moon with the sighting!

In the afternoon we didn't have much time anymore, but local herpetologist Antreas Kourides and German PhD student Daniel Jestrzemski had a little surprise in store for us. Just before we had to leave to the airport we met just outside Paphos and before we knew it we were face to face with a massive Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetinus). We all agreed that this was the perfect ending, not only of the day but of our time on Cyprus as well. Thanks so much for that again Antreas and Daniel!

At the airport we had dinner before boarding our flight back to Amsterdam. 


Cyprus was different than I expected. The mass tourism is restricted to certain places and not omnipresent. Therefore, the herping was lovely. At every site we visited we could easily observe almost all lizard species in big numbers. Snakes were somewhat harder to come by, but a longer stay on the island with different weather conditions would have surely led to observations of more species. The island is home to a number of rarely observed species which I would love to find on a future visit. The tourism facilities on the island are not all necessarily pretty or enjoyable, but at least it is always easy to find a meal or have a quick stop for some drinks (or icecream).  And once you get away from the hustle and bustle from the touristy places there are deserted beaches and perfect herping spots readily available. The students got to see a wide variety of animals, ranging from frogs and toads to chameleons and agamas, from vipers to rare endemic snakes and from cute hedgehogs to colourful birds. They got their first taste of these kind of field trips and I hope it ignited their enthusiasm for nature and broadened their knowledge. Now I have to think on where to go to next year...


Cyprus Green Toad (Bufotes cypriensis)

Cyprus Water Frog (Pelophylax cypriensis)

Lemon-yellow Tree Frog (Hyla savignyi)

Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata)

Cyprus Starred Agama (Laudakia cypriaca)

Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon ssp. recticrista)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Eastern Thin-toed Gecko (Mediodactylus orientalis)

Budak's Snake-eyed Skink (Ablepharus budaki)

Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)

Bridled Skink (Heremites vittatus)

Schreiber's Fringe-fingered Lizard (Acanthodactylus schreiberi)

Snake-eyed Lacertid (Ophisops elegans ssp. schlueteri)

Troodos Lizard (Phoenicolacerta troodica)

Black Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis)

Cyprus Whip Snake (Hierophis cypriensis)

Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetinus)

Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) DOR


Many thanks to Christoph Andrijczuk, Daniel Bohle, Henrik Bringsoe, Daniel Jestrzemski, Antreas Kourides, Kristian Stengaard Munkholm, Thomas Reich and Vojtech Vita.