Written by and Photos Courtesy of Brandon A. Gross
Greece is home to 6,000 islands and islets that are scattered throughout both the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Out of those islands, only 227 islands are inhabited by human populations. The island of particular interest in this past wildlife research expedition lies in the eastern region of the Aegean Sea, is Samos. The surface of Samos covers 476 km2 with roughly 44 km travelling east to west of the island and by 19 km going north to south. Samos is mostly mountainous and hilly terrain where pine forest dominate the habitat types of the island with the highest elevation (Mt. Kerkis) reaching a maximum height of 1,434 m. The island is home to a unique and diverse wildlife ranging from a large biodiversity of invertebrates, to many native and migratory birds that make Samos their home, the endangered monk seal, to even a small variety of amphibians and reptiles. As a herpetologist, there are a total of 28 species (4 amphibians, and 24 reptiles) confirmed on Samos. Out of the 11 species of snakes that inhabit the island, one of them is considered venomous and has the potential to be life-threatening known as the Ottoman Viper (Montivipera xanthina) – named for the region it can be found in.
This wildlife research expedition was co-hosted by Operation Wallacea and Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation. The expedition lasts for seven complete weeks where students come and take a two week course: Samos (Week 1) and Lipsi (Week 2). It included various marine and terrestrial surveys, including the Herpetofauna survey. The purpose of these surveys were to introduce students from across the globe to amphibian and reptile biodiversity on Samos Island, Greece. No previous work has ever been done on any of these species, except for the charismatic species, the Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). The Mediterranean or Common Chameleon makes Samos a very unique island in Greece. As the lead Herpetologist for Operation Wallacea’s first expedition in Greece and with no data collected it was important to generate the first database with various collections of measurements and DNA sampling and it was imperative to work closely with any herpetofauna to collect as much data as possible. By the second school group, we were doing anywhere from three to five surveys a day. The surveys varied from the herpetofauna surveys that took place during the day along with vegetation survey and night surveys to spot-light chameleons. It was imperative to spend as much time in the field to collect whatever data we could gather.
While on the island, we experienced the opinions of the locals and what they thought of snakes on the island. So we worked closely with Archipelagos to kick start our efforts in putting a conservation plan to bring awareness to the local community and demonstrate the importance in having amphibians and reptiles in our lives. We are currently in the process of making a booklet (English and Greek version) that we could use to promote awareness in amongst the community. With the general eye-spot surveys, the expedition recorded 196 animals that were not captured or could not be captured in the process of spotting them. The type of information that was collected: Scientific name, Common name, GPS coordinates, Date, Time, and Elevation. Of the 28 species recorded on Samos Island, 16 different species were spotted during these surveys. The amphibians and reptiles that we were able to capture at the completion of the wildlife research expedition reaches a total of 78 specimens that were either caught alive or found dead on the road (in other words, D.O.R.). Out of the 78 specimens of the 16 species captured (3 Amphibian species, 5 Lizard species, 6 Snake species, and 1 Testudine species). Overall, I believe that for the first wildlife research expedition on Samos, Greece in 2015 was a great success with the Herpetofauna surveys when it comes to the number of sightings and the numbers of different species captured during the six week span.