Mammals, amphibians, reptiles and other animals in the Algarve

Although most famous for its wildflowers, birds and butterflies, the Algarve has a lot more to offer the general wildlife enthusiast; it's just a matter of knowing when and where to look. Below the gallery are articles, written by Clive Viney, author of Algarve Wildlife the natural year, giving details of the Algarve's diversity of Mammals and of Reptiles and Amphibians

 

Eyed Lizard
The Eyed-lizard is one of the fabulous reptiles that you may be
lucky enough to glimpse in the Algarve.
Picture Ray Tipper: Licence enquiry...

Mammals

Unfortunately, most of the Algarve’s mammals are nocturnal and not often seen by the casual visitor. Only Western Hedgehog, Rabbit, Iberian Hare and various bats, which mostly defy identification, are readily visible. In remoter districts, those seeking wildlife might occasionally glimpse a Red Fox, a Eurasian Otter or even a party of foraging Wild Boar. Two well-established North African species are Common Genet, a spotted catlike carnivore and the Egyptian Mongoose. Whilst genets spend the day hiding, mongooses are diurnal and quite commonly seen.

Most of the larger terrestrial mammals are unmistakable and carrying a field guide on the off chance of seeing one is unnecessary. Smaller mammals usually come in the form of specimens, perhaps a small vole from a swimming pool filter or just something the cat brought in - then a good reference source is necessary. Although not for the squeamish, road kills provide valuable information on occurrence and distribution.

The most recently published guide is Mammals of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by S. Aulagnier et al first published in English by A&C Black in 2009. Another useful and readily available reference book is the Collins Field Guide Mammals of Britain & Europe by David Macdonald and Priscilla Barrett (1993). The Hamlyn Guide Bats of Britain and Europe by Wilfried Schober and Eckard Grimmberger (1993) is comprehensive. For marine mammals, Sea Mammals of the World by Randall R. Reeves, Brent S. Stewart, Phillip J. Clapham and James A. Powell (published by A&C Black 2002) is splendidly illustrated and a mine of information.

Mammals of the Algarve - A Systematic Summary

For terrestrial mammals, the systematic summary uses the English names and follows the sequence and scientific nomenclature employed by Aulagnier et al (2009). Portuguese names are those used by Mitchell-Jones et al (1999) in the Atlas of European Mammals, published by Academic Press, London. For cetaceans, the English and scientific names follow Randall et al (2002).

Weasel
Weasels Mustela nivalis are very rarely seen in the Algarve, but this
one was spotted in the stony ground which is a favourite hunting
ground. Picture: Mark Barber

LAGOMORPHS Leporidae Medium-sized herbivorous animals.

In Europe, they are characterised by long back legs, long ears and the ability to run fast. Universally regarded as game.

Iberian Hare Lepus granatensis Lebre-ibrica
Separated from Rabbit by larger size, long black-tipped ears and loping gait. Common and widespread. Endemic to Iberia and the Balearic Islands.

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus Coelho-bravo
Familiar mammal. Normally very common and widespread but declining dramatically in many areas. Suffers from considerable hunting pressure and disease.

HEDGEHOGS Erinaceidae Familiar insectivorous mammals with a protective covering of spines on the back.

Western Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus Ouriço-cacheiro
Common and widespread but unfortunately most frequently noticed as a road kill. Although mainly nocturnal, is also active at dawn and dusk.

SHREWS Soricidae Tiny insectivorous mammals with long mobile muzzles. Nocturnal and usually solitary.

Greater White-toothed Shrew Crocidura russula Musaranho-de-dentes-brancos
Quite common and widespread. Often the dominant species in a Barn Owl’s diet.

Pygmy White-toothed Shrew Suncus etruscus Musaranho-anão
Smallest ground-dwelling mammal in the world. Much less common than Greater White-toothed Shrew. Found in traditional olive groves and vineyards, especially those with old stonewalls. Particularly sensitive to insecticides and herbicides.

MOLES Talpidae Insectivorous mammals known for their burrowing habits.

Iberian Mole Talpa occidentalis Toupeira
Widespread Iberian endemic. Although common is invisible - lives permanently in underground tunnels.

BATS Rhinolophidae, Molossidae and Vespertilionidae. Familiar, nocturnal flying mammals.

Nearly a quarter of all mammalian species are bats. Colonial breeders and very vulnerable to habitat destruction, disturbance and poisoning (for example, remedial timber treatment in buildings). Specific identification of bats in flight is usually very difficult. All bat species have legal protection in the EU. Little is known about the distribution of bats in the Algarve.

Mediterranean Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus eurayle Morcego-de-ferradura-mediterrânico
Local cave-dwelling species. Roosts with Greater Horseshoe Bat and Schreiber’s Bat.

Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are common in the Algarve
and are frequently seen in gardens
and on golf courses.
Picture Ray Tipper: Licence enquiry...

Greater Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum Morcego-de-ferradura-grande
Widespread cave-dwelling species.

Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros Morcego-de-ferradura-pequeno
Widespread species that frequently roosts in buildings during the summer. Breeds on coastal cliff faces in the central Algarve coast. Conservation status is vulnerable.

Mehely’s Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus mehelyi Morcego-de-ferradura-mourisco
Local cave-dwelling species. Breeds on coastal cliff faces in the central Algarve. Conservation status is vulnerable.

European Free-tailed Bat Tadarida teniotis Morcego-rabudo
Recorded from western coastal areas. High and fast flying species.

Schreibers’ Bat Miniopterus schreibersii Morcego-de-peluche
Medium-sized, blunt-nosed and dome-headed bat with a fast swallow-like flight. Migratory species that travels far from roosts. A huge breeding colony of several thousand was discovered in a cave in the Salir area and also recorded breeding on coastal cliff faces in the central Algarve. Also known as Common Bentwing Bat.

Serotine Bat Eptesicus serotinus Morcego-hortelão
Large robust bat that usually emerges shortly after sunset. Common house-dwelling species.

Leisler’s Bat Nyctalus leisleri Morcego-arboricola-pequeno
Medium-sized, fast-flying woodland bat.

Kuhl’s Pipistrelle Pipistrellus kuhlii Morcego de Kuhl
Common and widespread in urban areas but impossible to separate from Common Pipistrelle by field observation. Typically, hunts over streetlamps.

Parsley Frog
The Parsley Frog Pelodytes ibericus is able to tolerate brackish
water. Picture: Mark Barber

Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus Morcego-anão
Smallest European bat. Very common and widespread. Leaves its roost about 20 minutes after sunset and is active through the night - occasionally flies in daylight.

Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus
Slightly smaller than Common Pipistrelle and only recently elevated to species level on the basis of its higher frequency echolocation calls. Trapped at Vilamoura October 2010.

Brown Long-eared Bat Plecotus auritus Morcego-orelhudo-castanho
Rare woodland species. Single record from the northwest Algarve.

Grey Long-eared Bat Plecotus austriacus Morcego-orelhudo-cinzento
Medium-sized, nocturnal bat with extraordinarily large ears. Recorded from western coastal areas.

Lesser Mouse-eared Bat Myotis blythi Morcego-rato-pequeno
Colonies found in caves in the Salir area (Fonte Benémola) and on coastal cliff faces in the central Algarve.

Daubenton’s Bat Myotis daubentonii Morcego-de-água
Small to medium-sized, crepuscular bat that emerges about 30 minutes after sunset. Common and widespread species usually associated with freshwater habitats.

Geoffrey’s Bat Myotis emarginatus Morcego-lanudo
Rare and its conservation status is vulnerable.

Greater Mouse-eared Bat Myotis myotis Morcego-rato-grande
Cave-dwelling species reported from the western Algarve.

Natterer’s Bat Myotis natterei Morcego-de-franja
Woodland species reported from the western Algarve.

CANIDS Canidae Dog-like carnivores that are adapted for fast pursuit of prey in open country.

Wolf Canis lupus Lobo
Remained relatively common in the north of the region until the turn of the century but was extinct by 1920. Stone corrals in many rural areas bear witness to the former presence of wolves.
 
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes Raposa
Fairly common and widespread. Normally nocturnal and crepuscular. Most widespread and successful wild carnivore in the world.

Rabbit
Rabbits are a common site in the country-
side. Picture Ray Tipper: Licence enquiry...

MUSTELIDS Mustelidae Family of predatory carnivores that includes weasels, polecats, martens, badgers and otters.

Weasel Mustela nivalis Doninha
Familiar and distinctive small mammal with a cylindrical body and short legs. Fairly common and widespread. Normally difficult to see but males seeking out females are noticeable in early spring.
European Polecat Mustela putorius Toirão
Sturdier than a Weasel and has a striking, grey-white face with a bandit mask and white ears. Widespread. Occasionally seen in daylight but more active at night - often close to human settlements.
Stone Marten Martes foina Fuinha
Cat-sized mammal with a strikingly white throat bib. Favours open, rocky ground and when disturbed, runs in leaps and bounds. Occurs in human settlements where it scavenges and takes fruit and eggs. Widespread but difficult to see as it is solitary and nocturnal.
Badger Meles meles Texugo
Familiar mammal with a black and white snout. Widespread but nocturnal. Mostly seen in car headlights or found as a road kill.
Eurasian Otter Lutra lutra Lontra
Familiar riverside, semi-aquatic mammal with smooth, sleek fur. Normally nocturnal but where undisturbed is active in daylight. Fairly common and widespread along larger rivers and on remote shores.

GENETS Viverridae Short-legged, long-bodied carnivores.

Common Genet Genetta genetta Geneta
Cat-like but with Weasel characteristics and an exceptionally long, ringed tail. Widespread. Nocturnal and extremely secretive. Sadly is usually seen as a road kill. Introduced to Europe many centuries ago from northwest Africa.

Moorish Gecko
The Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritanica is quite at home
with us and is frequently seen in and around houses.
Picture: Mark Barber

PINNIPEDS Phocidae Sea mammals with many aquatic adaptations.

Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina has occurred on the Portuguese west coast

Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus has been recorded as a vagrant.

MONGOOSES Herpestidae Mongooses are small to medium-sized, terrestrial carnivores.

Egyptian Mongoose Herpestes ichneumon Sacarrabos
Uniform, greyish-brown, cat-sized mammal with a long broad-based tail. Common and widespread. Active by day and quite often seen, especially crossing or ambling along rural roads. Introduced to Europe many centuries ago from Africa.

FELIDS Felidae Highly carnivorous. Superb night vision, hearing and a good sense of smell. Mostly solitary and secretive.

Wildcat Felis silvestris Gato-bravo
Similar to a domestic tabby but longer-legged with a bushier tail. Widespread in wooded areas but mostly nocturnal and secretive. Interbreeds with domestic cats and accordingly the genetic integrity of the species is threatened. Conservation status is vulnerable.

Bufo bufo ssp spinosus
Above - Common Toad (sometimes referred to as Spiny Toad)
Bufo bufo ssp. spinosus is a subspecies of the Common Toad
found in the Mediterranean.
Picture: Mark Barber

Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus Lince-ibérica
Substantial, well-marked cat with a short tail. Avoids crops and plantations. Most active at dawn and dusk. Iberian endemic now reduced to a few isolated pockets. Highly endangered but reportedly survives (just) in the Serra do Monchique.

PIGS Suidae Robust, large-headed, omnivorous ungulates (hoofed mammals) with relatively short legs.

 

Wild Boar Sus scrofa Javali
Robust and of easily identifiable, pig-like appearance. Sows and striped piglets move as a troop. Common and widespread in the hills to the point of being a nuisance in remoter areas. Nevertheless, largely nocturnal and not often seen. Hunted under licence (officially culled).

 

 

CERVIDS Cervidae Deer are familiar, graceful ungulates.

Truly wild deer are extinct in the Algarve. Red Deer Cervus elaphus Veado released into fenced hunting estates may escape and even breed in the wild. Antlers (10 points) of a stag Red Deer were found in newly excavated mud at Cerro do Bufo Salinas on 15th April 2008; they were encrusted with marine deposits and Steve Hencher (a professional geologist) opined that they were 2,000 years old. Interestingly, road signs for many kilometres between Odemira and Monchique advise motorists to be wary of deer.

RODENTS Rodentia An enormous order that in the Algarve includes dormice Gliridae, voles Cricetidae, mice and rats Muridae.

These small terrestrial, arboreal, burrowing or semi-aquatic animals are perhaps the most successful of all mammalian groups.

Western Spadefoot
The Western Spadefoot Pelobates cultipes has large eyes with verical
pupils. Its common name derives from its back feet which resemble
spades which it uses for digging burrows. Found in sandy areas.
Picture: Mark Barber

Garden Dormouse Eliomys quercinus Leirão
Black facemask, prominent ears and long tail. Uncommon but widespread - especially favours oakwoods. Dormice are endearing small rodents that typically have a long hibernation period, during which they accumulate fat. Intermediate in form between mice and squirrels

Southern Water Vole Arvicola sapidus Rato-de-água
Chunky, aquatic rodent of riverbanks. Fairly common and widespread but always occurs in close proximity to water (streams and marshes).

Cabrera’s Vole Microtus cabrerae Rato de Cabrera
Small vole mostly confined to underground galleries. Iberian endemic. Recorded from coastal areas, including Tavira (specimens).

Mediterranean Pine Vole Microtus duodecimcostatus Rato-cego-mediterrânico
Occurs commonly in southern Iberia. Unlikely to be seen as it spends much time underground. Twice recovered from a swimming pool in Tavira (specimens).
Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus Rato-do-campo
Ubiquitous countryside mouse. Separated by large ears and very long tail. Particularly agile and likes leafy pergolas Suitable habitat ranges from gardens to cornfields. Short-lived and features highly in the diet of larger mammals and owls. Mostly nocturnal but is active from about two hours before sunset.

Western Sandracer
The Western Sand Racer Psammodromus occidentalis
Picture: Mark Barber

Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus Ratazana-castanha
Familiar mammal. Widespread, inhabiting riverbanks and sewerage systems. Introduced to Europe (probably from Asia) and established during the 18th century.

Black Rat Rattus rattus Ratazana-preta
Distinguished from Brown Rat by longer, almost hairless (Mickey Mouse) ears. Very common and widespread in the Algarve, where it is arboreal and fills the niche normally taken by squirrels.

House Mouse Mus musculus Rato-caseiro
Well-known commensal with man that occurs in a wide range of urban habitats. The western and Mediterranean form M. M. domesticus occurs in in Portugal.

Algerian Mouse Mus spretusRato-das-hortas
Very common and widespread. A country mouse, avoiding buildings.

CETACEANS Delphinidae, Phocoenidae, Balaenopteridae and Balaenidae

Dolphins, porpoises and even whales can be seen by patient observers from headlands such as Cabo de São Vicente. Even, large whales, such as the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Eubalaena glacialis have been reported. Deep-sea fishermen occasionally tell of being 'surrounded' by dolphins. Pelagic birdwatching trips out of Sagres and Portimão have listed Common Bottlenose, Striped, Short-beaked Common and Risso's Dolphins with some frequency and occasionally Killer Whale. Risso's Dolphins have also been seen from the Atlantic shore of Ilha da Culatra. Species occurring in Algarvian waters with some regularity are:

  • Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata
    Rough-toothed Dolphin Steno bredanensis
    Common Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus
    Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba
    Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis
    Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus
    False Killer Whale Pseudorca crassidens
    Killer Whale Orcinus orca
    Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas
    Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena

Common Tree Frog
Look amongst the vegetation for the
Common Tree Frog.
Picture Ray Tipper: Licence enquiry...

Reptiles and Amphibians

For most visitors the first contact with reptiles in the Algarve is a gecko stalking flies on a villa wall or a dark snake slithering across the road in front of the car. As for amphibians, at night wherever there is freshwater, frogs croak in chorus and occasionally a huge female toad, the size of a small football, ambles unconcernedly across a lawn. Unforgettable will be the first meeting with a slow moving, bug-eyed chameleon. This remarkable animal ignores its watchers and just goes about its business of stalking and catching insects with its extraordinary, extensible, pink, sticky tongue. The Algarve is a place to enjoy and learn from such chance encounters. It is not a place to fear reptiles and amphibians. In fact, people say there are no poisonous snakes in Portugal but that is not quite true.

Europe has few field guides to its reptiles and amphibians. The most recent guide is European Reptile and Amphibian Guide by Axel Kwet and published by New Holland in 2009. Also readily available is Collins Field Guide Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe by Nick Arnold and Denys Ovenden (second edition 2002).

Fire Salamander
Fire Salamanders Salamandra salamandra crespoi are mainly nocturnal,
but are occasionally spotted after heavy rainfall. Picture: Mark Barber

Reptiles and Amphibians of the Algarve - A Systematic Summary

This systematic summary follows the scientific nomenclature, English names, Portuguese names and distributional information in Amphibians and Reptiles of Portugal, Madeira and the Azores-Archipelago by Rudolf Malkmus, published by A.R.G. Gantner Verlag Kommanditgesellschaft in 2004.

TAILED AMPHIBIANS

Salamanders and Newts Salamandridae

Salamanders are secretive, tailed amphibians usually found by turning over stones and logs or searching damp crannies. Newts are partly terrestrial, tailed amphibians that enter still or slow-flowing water in spring to breed. Males develop a characteristic breeding dress and perform a complex aquatic courtship.

Fire Salamander Salamandra salamandra Salamandra-de-pintas-amarelas
Two subspecies occur in Portugal, gallaica & crespoi, both of which recorded in the Algarve but their respective ranges are little studied (Malkmus). This brightly coloured and unmistakable terrestrial salamander mostly occurs in damp, forested areas in the hills. Strictly nocturnal and mostly encountered after rain. Widespread in the Algarve. The bright colours serve as a warning that it is poisonous to eat.

Marbeled Newt
The Marbled Newt Triturus marmoratus returns
to water to breed but is otherwise found in
in dry habitats including open woodland.
Picture: Mark Barber

Spanish Newt Pleurodeles waltl Salamandra-de-costelas-salientes
Monotypic. This surprisingly chunky, aquatic salamander (up to 30 cm long) with a toad-like head is the largest European tailed amphibian. Thinly distributed in the Algarve. Positive identification of a specimen at Quinta de Perogil, Tavira. Also known as Sharp-ribbed Newt

Bosca’s Newt Triturus boscai Tritão-de-ventre-laranja
Iberian endemic newt that mostly occurs in hilly areas. Identified by bright orange underparts. Aquatic from October to May.

Marbled Newt Triturus marmoratus Tritão-marmorado
Indications are that the subspecies occurring in the Algarve is pygmaeus (Malkmus), which is sometimes regarded as a full species Southern Marbled Newt Triturus pygmaeus (Kwet). Large newt with bright green upperparts (male with distinctively striped crest) and a plain belly. Thinly distributed in the Algarve.

TAILLESS AMPHIBIANS

Frogs and Toads Discoglossidae, Pelobatidae, Bufonidae, Hylidae & Ranidae

Familiar tailless amphibians with short bodies, longer hind legs and usually moist skin without scales. Traditionally, the name toad was reserved for the stouter species with drier and warty skin but these days is more liberally applied.

Iberian Midwife Toad Alytes cisternasii Sapo-parteiro-ibérico
Iberian endemic. Small, plump toad with prominent eyes that have a vertical pupil. Widely distributed in the Algarve but mostly inland. Midwife toads mate on land and afterwards the male carries the eggs wrapped around his hind legs to pools to keep them moist and when ready to hatch deposits them in shallow water.

Iberian Painted Frong
The Iberian Painted Frog Discoglossus pictus is distinguished from
frogs of the Rana genus by its rounded rather than horizontal pupils.
Picture: Mark Barber

Iberian Painted Frog Discoglossus galganoi Discoglosso-ibérico
Iberian endemic. Plump, medium-sized frog with shiny skin. Widely but thinly distributed in the Algarve but easily confused with Iberian Water Frog - best distinguished by pupil shape, which is rounded or triangular rather than horizontal. Also known as West Iberian Painted Frog

Iberian Spadefoot Pelobates cultripes Sapo-da-unha-negra
Monotypic. Plump, smooth-skinned toad with large eyes (vertical pupil) and a black 'spade' (pointed swelling) on the hind foot. Favours sandy areas where it hides during the day in burrows. Scarce but sometimes abundant after heavy rain. Also known as Western Spadefoot.

Iberian Parsley Frog Pelodytes ibericus Sapinho-de-verragas-verdes-ibérica
Iberian endemic. Small agile frog, similar to the Iberian Midwife Toad but longer-limbed. Very secretive; usually found among damp vegetation and will tolerate a degree of salinity. Widespread in the Algarve.
Common Toad Bufo bufo Sapo
Two subspecies, spinosus & gredosicola, occur in Portugal but their ranges are little studied (Malkmus). Typical, warty, heavily built (sometimes huge) toad that usually walks but hops when alarmed. Highly variable coloration and considerable sexual dimorphism. Common and widespread in the Algarve.

Iberian Water Frog
The Iberian Water Frog Rana perezi is the most common
frog found in the Algarve

Natterjack Bufo calamita Sapo-corredor
Monotypic. Similar but smaller than Common Toad and sometimes has a bright yellow stripe down the centre of the back. Highly variable coloration and notable sexual dimorphism. Widely distributed in the Algarve. Positive identification of a specimen at Quinta de Perogil, Tavira.

European Tree Frog Hyla arborea Rela
This beautiful, small, bright green, climbing frog occurs among vegetation and in trees. In the Algarve, this species is much scarcer than the Mediterranean Tree Frog and only recorded from the west. Portuguese specimens are usually assigned to the subspecies molleri (Malkmus) but the authenticity of this subspecies is challenged (Kwet). Also known as Common Tree Frog.

Mediterranean Tree Frog Hyla meridionalis Rela-meridional
Similar to European Tree Frog but lacks a clear stripe along flanks. Fairly common and widespread in the Algarve. Positive identification of specimens at Quinta de Perogil, Tavira and Casa Papa-figos, Porto Carvalhoso. Also known as Stripeless Tree Frog.

Iberian Water Frog Rana perezi Rã-verde
Gregarious, noisy, robust and variably coloured frog - in water many look green with black spots with a yellowish stripe down the centre of the back. Portugal's most common and widespread amphibian species and Algarve's most abundant and widespread frog - found wherever freshwater occurs

TORTOISES AND TURTLES

Spanish Terrapin
Spanish Terrapins live in streams and rivers
in the Algarve.
Picture Ray Tipper: Licence enquiry...

Terrapins Emydidae

Familiar, semi-aquatic, carnivorous reptiles that have the body encased with a bony shell. There are no native land tortoises in the Algarve.

Spanish Terrapin Mauremys leprosa Cágado
Similar to European Pond Terrapin but carapace is paler and more keeled and on the extended neck, stripes are often visible. Common and widespread in the Algarve - the frequently seen terrapin of streams and river pools.

European Pond Terrapin Emys orbicularis Cágado-de-carapaça-estriada
Numerous subspecies. Terrapin with a dark brown carapace - often with diagnostic yellow streaks and spots. Prefers still water. Scarce in the Algarve and much less common than Spanish Terrapin.

Red-eared Terrapin Trachemys scripta
Widely introduced in Europe (and elsewhere) from Mississippi drainage in USA. Identified at Quinta do Ludo from April 2006.

Sea Turtles Cheloniidae & Dermochelyidae

Superb swimmers that spend almost their entire lives at sea - females come ashore to lay eggs but there is no record of breeding in continental Portugal. Turtles are seen regularly offshore and sick or dead turtles are occasionally thrown up on Algarvian beaches, especially during hot summers. Both Loggerhead Turtle Caretta caretta Tartaruga-boba and Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea Tartaruga-de-coura have occurred. A Green Turtle Chelonia mydas Tartaruga-verde specimen was found at Monte Gordo in 1990.

LIZARDS

Chameleons Chamaeleonidae

Extraordinary, slow-moving, arboreal lizards with a prehensile tail. They can change colour and move their eyes independently. The sticky tongue, used to catch insects, is shot out for more than the body length.

European Chameleon
September is the best time of year to
see these shy creatures.
Picture Ray Tipper: Licence enquiry...

European Chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon Camaleão
Unmistakable. Often most visible in early autumn when females come to the ground to lay eggs. Fairly common and widespread in central and eastern coastal areas and into adjoining foothills. Apparently introduced to Portugal in pine woodland between Vila Real de Santo António and Monte Gordo in 1920. Although legally protected in some areas is sometimes caught and killed by country people. Also known as Mediterranean Chameleon.

Geckoes Gekkonidae

Small, plump lizards with large eyes. Excellent climbers, especially on walls and ceilings.

Moorish Gecko Tarentola mauritanica Osga
Robust, spiny looking lizard. The abundant and widespread gecko of the Algarve - commonly found in houses.

Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus Osga-turca
Slender, rather pale and blotchy looking gecko with obvious claws. Mostly found in open areas away from habitation. Surprisingly loud voice - utterances include a mournful mewing cry and repetitive clicking sounds. Widespread but scarce in the Algarve.

Typical Lizards Lacertidae

Typical, active, diurnal lizards, having a long body with an obvious head, long tail and well-developed legs.

Schreiber's Green Lizard Lacerta schreiberi Lagarto-de-água
Monotypic Iberian endemic. Similar to Eyed Lizard but is usually smaller and males (and some females) have a blue throat. Occurs in upland areas, preferring habitats close to watercourses. Mostly recorded from Serra de Monchique.

Eyed Lizard Timon lepidus Sardão
Startling, often huge (up to 80 cm), green lizard with blue spots on flanks. Can be frighteningly noisy when hidden in undergrowth. Harmless if left alone, although bites when cornered. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve. Favours traditional farmland but is catholic in choice of habitats. Positive identification of a juvenile specimen at Rocha da Pena. Also known as Ocellated Lizard.

Natterjack Toad
Natterjack Toad Bufo calmita has attractive markings and uses
seasonal shallow ponds for breeding. It can even tolerate brackish
water. Picture: Mark Barber

Iberian Wall Lizard Podarcis hispanica Lagartixa-ibérica
Two distinct forms occur in Portugal that may prove to be taxonomically distinct (Malkmus). Less robust than similar Carbonelli's Wall Lizard and often found climbing on rocks, walls and road-cuttings. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve.

Carbonell's Wall Lizard Podarcis carbonelli Lagartixa-de-Carbonelli
Iberian endemic. Ground-dwelling wall lizard confined to the Atlantic coast of the Algarve.

Algerian Sand Lizard Psammodromus algirus Lagartixo-do-mato
Most common and widespread reptile in Portugal. Distinctive, ground-dwelling, striped lizard with a long tail. Males often have blue spots in the shoulder region and when breeding the throat is orange. Found in almost any dry habitat. If approached cautiously this lizard can be touched, tickled or even picked up when it often squeaks. Occurs throughout the Algarve. Also known as Large Psammodromus.

Spanish Sand Lizard Psammodromus hispanicus Lagartixa-do-mato-ibérica
Nominate subspecies occurs in the Algarve. Smaller and less boldly marked than Algerian Sand Lizard and much rarer. Favours dry lowland areas. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve. Also known as Spanish Psammodromus.

Spiny-footed Lizard Acanthodactylus erythrurus Lagarto-de-dedos-denteados
Ground-dwelling lizard, similar in size to Algerian Sand Lizard but readily distinguished by characteristic upright stance and coppery markings. Rare in the Algarve with very few acceptable records. Positive identification of a specimen at Quinta de Perogil, Tavira.

Skinks Scincidae

Small to medium-size, ground dwelling lizards with shiny scales, small heads and small (or even absent) limbs.

False Smooth Snake
The False Smooth Snake is an occasional find in the Algarve. It is
poisonous but its fangs are situated at the back of its mouth and
it is unable to bite humans effectively. Picture: Mark Barber

Bedriaga’s Skink Chalcides bedriagai Cobra-de-perna-pentadáctila
Iberian endemic. Taxonomical review of the species is required (Malkmus). Elongated, cylindrical body, small head and short, five-toed limbs identifies this secretive lizard. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve.

Three-toed Skink Chalcides striatus Cobra-de-pernas-tridáctila
Long (up to 40 cm), snake-like skink with tiny limbs. Mostly found in the moister areas of the southwest Algarve. Also known as Western Three-toed Skink.

Worm Lizards Amphisbaenidae

Highly specialised reptiles that have adapted to an almost exclusively subterranean lifestyle.

Amphisbaenian Blanus cinereus Cobra-cegra
Extraordinary reptile that looks like a large earthworm. Secretive and subterranean - usually only seen accidentally. Widespread Algarve records. Also known as Iberian Worm Lizard.

SNAKES

Typical Snakes Colubridae & Viperidae

All snakes are scaly, legless and have eyes that cannot close. Eight species of snake occur in the Algarve.

Horseshoe Whip Snake Coluber hippocrepis Cobra-de-ferradura
Fairly long (up to 1.5m), distinctively marked, fast moving snake of dry areas and around human habitation. Aggressive if handled but is non-venomous. Attractive species that is common and widespread in the Algarve.

Southern Smooth Snake Coronella girondica Cobra-lisa-bordalesa
Secretive, small, brownish (but rather chequered) snake of dry habitats. Mostly hunts at dusk and at night. Docile and non-venomous. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve.

Iberian Wall Lizard
The Iberian Wall Lizard

False Smooth Snake Macroprotodon cucullatus Cobra-de-capuz
Subspecies ibericus occurs in the Algarve. Similar to Southern Smooth Snake but with a dark collar. Secretive, mostly lowland species that hunts at dusk and at night. Although venomous, is back-fanged and unable to effectively bite humans. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve.

Ladder Snake Elaphe scalaris Cobra-de-escada
Fairly long (up to 1.6m), laterally striped snake (but only young snakes have the bold ladder pattern that gives the snake its name) that often basks on rocks and stones. Aggressive when captured but is non-venomous. Widespread but thinly distributed in the Algarve. Also classified as Rhinechis scalaris.

Montpellier Snake Malpolon monspessulanus Cobra-rateira
Large (up to 2m), formidable, ground-dwelling snake often seen slithering across roads in summer. Frequently killed by vehicles. Although venomous, is back-fanged and only likely to bite humans if handled. Common and widespread in the Algarve.

Grass Snake Natrix natrix Cobra-de-água-de-colar
Subspecies astreptophora occurs throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Large (up to 2m), active, uniformly coloured (in Iberia) snake that is usually found near water. Very wary and difficult to approach - often irritable when disturbed but is non-venomous. Widely but thinly distributed in the Algarve. A specimen photographed and subsequently positively identified at Porto Carvalhoso.

Viperine Snake Natrix maura Cobra-de-água-viperina
Small to medium-sized, well-patterned snake that is found in or near water. When cornered, hisses and strikes repeatedly like a viper but is non-venomous. Common and widespread in the Algarve, especially in riverbed pools of seasonal rivers.

Lataste’s Viper Vipera latasti Vibora-cornuda
Small, zigzag striped snake with a distinct nose horn. Occurs in any dry habitat. Irritable and venomous but its bite is not considered very serious. Scarce and only recorded from the western Algarve. The head is still used as an amulet for the protection against a variety of misfortunes (Malkmus).