Northern Italy from the 20th till the 25th of October 2013

After emailing for some time with herping friend Paul Lambourne the opportunity came up to do a trip together, he wanted to go to Northern Italy and asked Laura and me to tag along. Also a friend of Paul came along and Trevor Willis joined us on our short (but succesful!) Italian adventure. Eventough there were no new species for me to find in this part of Italy I was really excited to revisit places from the 2010 Eurotour (See menu item: 2010-7 Eurotour (2)) and it gave me the chance of seeing an adult Spectacled Salamander, a species we "missed" back then as we only found larvae.

The week prior to our trip the weather was brilliant for salamanders and gave us high hopes for finding our slimy friends as most maingoals of our trip were Urodeles. During our trip the weather was equally salamander-friendly and we had rather moist conditions (mostly mist, sometimes rain) and not too cold.

Overview of prospected sites.
Overview of prospected sites.

20/21 October 2013

After visiting the AG Urodela Jahrestagung in Gersfeld Laura and I flew from Munich to Genova in the late afternoon where Paul and Trevor were already waiting for us. We threw our luggage in our spacious rental car and headed in the direction of our first B&B were we arrived in darkness. We found it easily and our host with his wizard sleeves opened the door. La Luna e il Monviso proved to be a perfect place to stay and after stuffing our self on spaghetti with chestnuts and salami we drove towards the stunning Pian del Re. Illuminated by the full moon the steep, snowcapped peaks of the mountains surrounding the valley provided a surreal environment for mandering action. We knew it would be hard to find our first goal of the trip, finding Lanzai's Salamander (Salamandra lanzai) in October is impossible we were told at Gersfeld so our hopes weren't too high. Still, after climbing up to 2150m altitude I found an adult male crawling through the grass next to some big rocks. Great! 

The next day we returned to this amazing place to see the habitat, enjoy a beautiful hike and photograph the salamander. Late in the morning the gentle autumnal sun vanished behind thick clouds and mist crept up from the valley. It was time to move on again and we drove in the direction of Bobbio, what a silly name... In Albergo Ristorante Piercarlo we enjoyed the fabulous hospitality of another Italian host and his excellent cooking. After stuffing ourselves on traditional Italian dishes and liquour we crawled in bed.

22 October 2013

We started the day with a splendid, traditional breakfast and learned that pear juice is a heavenly delight. The rain from last night made the unpaved roads really slippery so trying to reach the first search site of the day proved to be a challenge for our rental car. We eventually just parked the car somewhere and started an equally slippery hike up the hill. We reached the site and netdipping immediately delivered several massive Italian Crested Newts (Triturus carnifex) and two Alpine Newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris apuanus).

Next stop was a small cave which I visited in 2010 and many Strinati's Cave Salamanders (Speleomantes strinatii) were found again, even a female with eggs was hiding in a crack! A nearby well outside the cave was a trap for many Fire Salamanders (Salamandra salamandra gigliolii) and seven of them were rescued and released again in suitable habitat nearby.

It became dark so we drove on to Genova again, went to Hotel Tommaseo to check in and found two colourful geckoes there. We ate a huge pizza nearby and went of for some nocturnal herping. First stop was a tower just outside the city, one of the few mainland places where European Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea) can be found. The wind was howling and even some slight drizzling rain fell down as we searched around the tower. First herps to pop up were Turkish geckoes (Hemidactylus turcicus) hiding between the rocks and a subadult Common Toad (Bufo bufo) hopping around. After a while Paul found a juvenile Leaf-toed Gecko and I could find an additional adult, an unexpected find under these conditions! After some pictures we drove towards a location for Spectacled Salamander, the place wasn't really what I expected it to be, and after climbing some fences and searching in unusual habitat for the species we decided to call it a night. Without having seen the salamander but with Italian Slow Worms (Anguis veronensis), Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis maculiventris) and Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis) added to our growing species list. 

23 October 2013

We got breakfast at a nearby bakery from a friendly smiling girl with very short hair who was very interested in Laura and found the two geckoes from the hotel strangely in our car... The wind even intensified as we were doing a reptile search on a slope were we found many skinks in 2010. Of course it took a while to find anything under these conditions but eventually a small Grass Snake (Natrix natrix helvetica) with a huge bulge in its belly was found. While photographing the small snake it regurgitated a Cave Salamander. Not so nice for the snake of course but an interesting observation nonetheless.

Searching the nearby woods for Spectacled Salamander delivered many, many Strinati's Cave Salamanders and several Fire Salamanders but not the highly desired salamander species we were looking for. While it got dark we went to B&B Il Sogno were I also stayed in 2010 and had again a hospitable host and an excellent dinner. In the meantime the weather outside grew horrid and rain poured down. We decided to check the same search sites again and found several Common Toads, Strinati's Cave Salamander, Fire Salamander and a Grass Frog (Rana temporaria). The streams we had to cross to get to the salamander places had swollen to massively swirling rivers. Crossing them was a lot of fun but we made it back to the car, needless to say we were soaking wet after this venture into the woods. Also we found a big Common Toad sitting on the dashboard of the car. Strange.

24 October 2013

The day started with putting on wet clothes, no heating in the B&B meant none of our clothes got the chance to dry. Er well, after breakfast we took some pictures of nice animals and drove towards another cave for the next species of Cave Salamander. After seeing so many Strinati's Cave Salamander it was time for us to see something entirely different: Ambrosi's Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii). Cave was easily found despite the road being largely flushed away and the salamanders proved to be plentiful. Also a beautiful adult Grass Snake and several Wall Lizards were found.

And then another cave! This one was a bit more tricky to find and after getting lost in small Italian mountain villages we eventually managed to find it and also the last Cave Salamander species on our list: Italian Cave Salamander (Speleomantes italicus). On the road we found a Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica) as we drove towards the last search site of today in darkness. Of course we also stopped for a greasy pizza which we quickly ate because we still didn't find any Spectacled Salamanders... When we arrived at the beautiful damp chestnut valley we immediately saw the habitat here is better than any place we've seen before. Amphibians were quickly found: Italian Frogs (Rana italica), Common Toads, Fire Salamander, Italian Cave Salamanders and finally Laura made the find of the trip and found a Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata), a find that made us sing and dance! What a fantastic evening! 

25 October 2013

An early start today, after a breakfast of cola and biscuits (cookies) we photographed again some beautiful animals and drove back to Genova. There we had lunch together at the airport and then it was time to say goodbye as Paul and Trevor had to fly back to London and Laura and I back to Munich. We might have shed a tear after this short but so enjoyable trip. Thanks for the driving and the excellent company guys!

From left to right: Paul, me, Laura and Trevor.
From left to right: Paul, me, Laura and Trevor.

Species List

Alpine Newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris ssp. apuanus)

Italian Crested Newt (Triturus carnifex)

Lanzai's Salamander (Salamandra lanzai)

Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra ssp. gigliolii)

Northern Spectacled Salamander (Salamandrina perspicillata)

Ambrosi's Cave Salamander (Speleomantes ambrosii)

Italian Cave Salamander (Speleomantes italicus)

Strinati's Cave Salamander (Speleomantes strinatii)

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis)

Italian Frog (Rana italica)

Grass Frog (Rana temporaria)

Italian Slow Worm (Anguis veronensis)

European Leaf-toed Gecko (Euleptes europaea)

Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)

Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis ssp. maculiventris)

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix ssp. helvetica)


Many thanks to: Wouter Beukema, Joachim Nerz, Jeroen Speybroeck and Gertjan Verspui.