During two previous trip to Malta I was unable to find a mysterious snake species dwelling on this island. The Algerian Whip Snake has its only European occurence here and is restricted to abandoned forts and overgrown city parks around the capital Valletta. This snake is very secretive and not much is known about its distribution on the island, population density or general biology. However, this year I am keen on finishing my European species list so I had to visit the island once more. Shortly after I came back from Morocco I was in need of herping abroad again so booked this trip, not knowing who would join. Luckily my buddy Frank Deschandol is doing a massive Eurotrip through Italy and the Balkans, so a short side excursion to Malta was easily made.
Friday 14th of April 2017
After work I flew with Transavia to Catania, and after a short stopover I flew on with Air Malta to my final destination. Frank was already on Malta the whole Friday and had sent me a special picture while I was still at work. He had found a baby Algerian Whip Snake (Hemorrhois algirus)! Needless to say I was wishing teleportation had already been invented. Frank collected me upon arrival and after forging plans for the next day, drinking a beer and having a meal in Valletta, we headed to bed. Frank slept in his van while I stayed in a youth hostel in the Vallettan Red Door District. We both wouldn't sleep well. Frank had the local lunatics running around his van, making the same noise over and over. Either calling for a long lost pet or trying to establish the perfect frequency for human echolocation - we will never find out. I had to deal with a who-can-snore-and-cough-the-most-disgustingly-contest at 4am. My personal winner was the person who coughed up some tracheal clot and well audibly nibbled on it for way longer than I cared to hear it.
Saturday 15th of April 2017
After a shitty night in the snormitory we searched at the cemetery and photographed the juvenile Algerian Whip Snake. Bizarre to finally see this elusive species for the first time, and what an especially beautiful little snake. We also easily found the usual suspects such as Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus) and Maltese Wall Lizard (Podarcis filfolensis). The latter two species were in reproduction mood, and we could observe males courting females on several occasions.
In the afternoon it got quite warm already, so we decided to take things slow. I knew the perfect location for swimming, so we drove north in the direction of Mellieha. On the road Frank spotted our first Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) crossing the road, so we stopped for a short photo session. In the late afternoon we left the beach and headed to the far north of the island. We could find the four most common species again, and I caught our first Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus).
A night search didn't deliver the much anticipated Cat Snake, but we did see many Mediterranean Chameleons and both gecko species. Moreover, I was delighted to find my favourite frogging spot on the island had improved even further. A rare sight on an island where nature is under immense pressure. So it didn't take us long to discover several Painted Frogs (Discoglossus pictus) in various life stages.
Sunday 16th of April 2017
In the morning we searched the St. Elmo area for Algerian Whip Snake without success. Afterwards we tried our luck at bend-over park. Temperatures were on the rise again, and we were about to give up. All we found was the four lizard species you find practically everywhere - until I spotted a tiny snake tail disappear in a hole in a rock wall. Slowly I approached it, but judging by the size of the hole, the snake must have been tiny indeed, and my chances of getting the snake out were as big as me ever wanting to get children. But then I spotted another crack in the wall and staring back at me was a snake which made my heart skip a beat: an adult Algerian Whip Snake! If I wouldn't have spotted the baby snake disappearing in the hole I would have never checked that crack. What a luck! Carefully replacing some rocks I could easily catch the animal for a close inspection.
In the afternoon the weather deteriorated and we went to San Anton Gardens for some terrapin spotting. Besides three (sub)species of terrapin we also saw a Painted Frog getting eaten by a duck. When the rain started falling we had lunch in Birkirkara and afterwards searched at known spots for Leopard Snake without success. At Mdina we had dinner and after sunset we went to the Chadwick Lakes to look for Painted Frogs. We saw a few of them, but the highlights of the evening were getting up close with a Scops Owl (Otus scops) and an Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus).
Feeling rather content with the nights yield, we went to a place recommended to us by a good friend. He told us it was a place where you can really be yourself. We were so looking forward to celebrating our snake hunting success in style but sadly it was closed! Frank even put on a clean shirt for nothing!
Monday 17th of April 2017
In the morning we met with my friend Leonard and herped together. He found a species we didn't manage to find by ourselves the day before, so he made us very happy with his Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)! Afterwards we had lunch and enjoyed seeing pictures from Leonard's recent outing to Ecuador. With just a few hours before departure, Frank and I went for some relaxing at my favourite beach where we dozed in the sun. Sadly the time had come for me to leave Malta and Frank. I would have loved to join you on your trip buddy! Luckily this time my trip to Malta wasn't in vain and I managed to find my main target I had missed during previous trips. Another species closer to finishing the euro list...
Painted Frog (Discoglossus pictus)
False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)
Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta ssp. scripta & elegans)
Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)
Moorish Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica)
Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)
Ocellated Skink (Chalcides ocellatus)
Maltese Wall Lizard (Podarcis filfolensis ssp. maltensis)
Algerian Whip Snake (Hemorrhois algirus)
Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus ssp. carbonarius)
Leopard Snake (Zamenis situla)
Many thanks to Jeroen Speybroeck, Robin Vanstokstraeten and Leonard Zammit.