Wildlife species to watch for in Frigiliana

Wildlife species to watch for in Frigiliana

Gecko’s

ANYONE who has a country property probably knows well the sticky footed lizards known as geckos. Happily living off bugs and flies, they spend their daytime in nooks and crannies waiting for the dark so that they can come out to feed.

But did you know that there are two different types and that the months of September and October are the best times to see the new hatchlings?

Tiny perfect copies of the parents that start out life on their own from the first moment they leave the egg. Be careful with the vacuum cleaner and keep an eye on the cat for it is a privilege to have this creature in your home.

MOORISH GECKO
TURKISH GECKO

MOORISH GECKO

These lizards are most active at night and have the ability to climb walls and even cling to ceilings. Their colouration can vary, but generally it is a camouflage pattern of browns, greens and greys with rough dorsal scales giving them a spiked appearance.

The scientific name is Tarentola mauritanica while the Spanish call them Salamanquesa común.

The body length can reach nine centimetres with the tail being equal to make a total of 18 cm. Often they are smaller than this and if the tail is damaged it may not be of equal length. As with most lizards, they have the ability to eject a section or all of the tail in order to confuse predators. While the disconnected tail still wriggles occupying the predator, the gecko has a chance to escape with its life and regenerate a new tail over the coming weeks.

They can live on rock faces, in trees, in log piles, drystone walls, barns and alongside people in dwellings.
Their food consists mainly of insects such as moths, beetles, caterpillars and spiders. They have adapted well to living next to humans as lights left on at night attract many moths which provide an ample food source.

Moorish geckos can be found through nearly all of Portugal and half of Spain, concentrated in the latter, mostly where there is a Mediterranean coastal influence on temperatures. They prefer warmth and so are rarely found in high mountain areas. The temperatures dictate as to whether they need to hibernate through the winter and this may only be for two or three months.

They start breeding from March through to the summer. Small, white, oval soft shelled eggs are deposited in wall crevices, hollow bricks etc.
There is no parental care and incubation may be from around a week to several months depending on ambient temperatures.

TURKISH GECKO

This is less widespread than the more common Moorish Gecko. It is confined to Southern Portugal and the Spanish Mediterranean coastal zone.

It is a more slender lizard with a finer head and overall pink tones with far fewer spikes. The definitive difference is that this gecko has claws on each toe whereas the Moorish gecko has well developed claws on only the third and fourth digits.

The overall length of Hemidactylus turcicus (Salamanquesa rosada in Spanish) can reach 12 centimetres but the body length is normally 50 to 53 millimetres.

The tail often has black and pink banding, with the body mottled sandy, pink and somewhat translucent tones.
Their food consists of nocturnal insects, small spiders and larvae.

These Geckos inhabit similar areas to the Moorish gecko and even share the same places including stone walls, tree trunks, ruins, barns and dwellings.

They are not likely to be found at more than 300 metres above sea level, preferring a warmer mean temperature.
Although crepuscular and nocturnal in their hunting habits they can be seen basking in the sun occasionally.

Breeding takes place between April and July. The small, soft shelled, white eggs will be deposited in cracks in walls, under rocks and in soil. They are around 8-9mm by 10-11mm in size and may be single or two together.
The incubation can be from 40 days to a little over three months depending on temperatures and humidity.

The Common Chameleon

The Only Chameleon Found in Europe
How to Identify the Common Chameleon

This species is mainly some shade of green, yellowish-green or brown in colour and is mostly found living in bushes and small trees in scrubland areas. It has a prehensile tail and four-toed feet that it uses to grasp the twigs and branches it climbs on.

Why Do Chameleons Change Colour?

Like most chameleons, this species can change its skin colouration in response to light, temperature and factors that influence its mood. Scientists believe that this phenomenon is caused by the way light reflects off of specialized cells in the species’ skin. Contrary to popular belief, this trait is not an attempt at camouflage but a response to environmental conditions. A colour change may occur when a chameleon is feeling threatened, is attempting to attract a mate or is trying to increase its body temperature.

Common Chameleon

Spiders

There are more than 1,700 species of spiders in Spain, four of which are potentially dangerous to humans. The Black Widow Spider, Mediterranean Tarantula, Brown Recluse Spider and Mediterranean Funnel Web Spider can all deliver a nasty bite, although none are fatal to humans.

Brown Recluse Spider
Black Widow Spider

Brown Recluse Spider

The Brown Recluse Spider is one of the more dangerous spiders in Spain. It can be recognised by marking on its back in the shape of a violin, which is why it is sometimes called the ‘fiddle-back’, ‘violin spider’ or ‘reaper’. If you are bitten by one of these creatures you may not even notice at the time, but it will soon become very painful. A ‘bulls-eye’ shape wound is formed and it can be painful and itchy for between 2 and 8 hours after the bite. Often an open sore will develop later, which can take months to heal.

Size: body length 15mm

Located: Cadiz and Andalusia

Black Widow Spider

The Spanish Black Widow Spider is Europe’s most dangerous spider. A bite from one of these will cause extreme pain as the venom attacks the nervous system. Symptoms of a bite can include fever, blindness, vomiting, asphyxiation and even respiratory failure which can cause death. In other words: steer clear of these little guys! Male black widows are black with red spots, so are pretty distinctive.

Size: 15mm body length (female, which is twice the size of the male).

Located: Almeria, Aragon, Andalusia and Valencia.

Mediterranean Tarantula
Mediterranean Funnel Web Spider

Mediterranean Tarantula

Yes, there are tarantulas native to Spain. If you are bitten by a Mediterranean Tarantula the pain is said to be similar to that of a wasp sting and not fatal. It is not easy to be a male tarantula, as the larger females commonly devour the weaker males. Studies suggest that these male victims are not sexual partners, but that the females will have an appetite for their fellow-tarantulas after copulation. It seems that this cannibalistic nature produces more and stronger baby spiders, but regardless, is still pretty disgusting.

Size: 30mm body length (female)

Located: Toledo Province

Mediterranean Funnel Web Spider

Allow me to introduce you to Europe’s largest – and most fearsome looking – spider, the Mediterranean Funnel Web. These monstrous creatures are a protected species due to their rarity, so chances are that you won’t come across one. Apparently, their bite is similar to a wasp sting and about as dangerous, so in other words you are only at risk if you are allergic. I still don’t want to ever get bitten by one though. In Spain they are called ‘La araña negra de los alcornocales‘ because the largest population of these spiders are found in the Alcornocales National Park in Andalusia. Which I am never, ever going to visit.

Size: body length up to 35mm

Located: Cádiz and Málaga provinces (especially coastal areas), also Huelva, Sevilla, Granada, Jaén, Gibraltar and Extremadura. (And in my nightmares).

Cicada

Cicadas are probably best known for their buzzing and clicking noises, which can be amplified by multitudes of insects into an overpowering hum.

Cicada Songs

Males produce this species-specific noise with vibrating membranes on their abdomens. The sounds vary widely and some species are more musical than others. Though cicada noises may sound alike to humans, the insects use different calls to express alarm or attract mates.

The processionary caterpillar

Dangerous for humans, deadly for dogs

They are called pine processionary caterpillars and it’s likely you’ve seen them at some point walking in a long line across the floor of a pine forest. This natural spectacle not only catches the eye of humans but also of dogs. The most curious can die in an attempt to see what these funny-looking creatures taste like.

The caterpillars are always there but it’s only at this time of the year that they cross the paths of humans and their pets. At the beginning of spring, the rising temperatures trigger the burying instinct. The caterpillars come down from their nests (the white balls you see in pine trees) and walk along the ground looking for a place to bury themselves and make a chrysalis they will then break out of in July as moths. They walk along in procession (hence their name) led by a female and would be easy prey for predators at this point if they weren’t poisonous.

That’s where the problems start for dogs (or anyone that touches them). The caterpillars are covered in poisonous hairs with a toxin that is devastating for dogs who put their noses near them. First the dog starts to scratch its mouth, as if it wants to get something off its tongue with its claws whilst salivating profusely. At this point you need to get to a vet as soon as possible. “They can die”. The caterpillar causes various injuries to dogs. The symptoms are similar to those of an allergic reaction. The tongue, oesophagus and stomach swell up. Eventually, the dog can’t breathe and dies. In most cases this doesn’t happen because they get to a vet in time, but the animal’s tongue where it has touched a caterpillar suffers necrosis. Some lose almost all their tongue.

The processionary caterpillar

Praying Mantis

Or Praying Mantid. Light green, or brown, these are reminiscent of little alien figures with their triangular heads and bulbous eyes. All the better to see you with, in fact they have a vision range of up to 20 metres.  You’ll find the Praying Mantis on plant pots and grapevines, and they’re much prettier than their closest relative, the Cockroach. The name “mantis” comes from the Greek word for “prophet” or “soothsayer.”

Named for their prominent front legs that fold together in a supine gesture suggesting an act of devotion, the praying mantis comes off as serene and soulful. You might think of them as docile things, moving about slowly, nibbling on orchids … but oh how looks deceive. The truth is, Mantis religiosa is an ambush predator; a carnivore with martial arts moves and a taste for live flesh. As one scientists said in reference to mantises learning to stalk hummingbird feeders for meals, “We’re lucky praying mantises aren’t our size.”

With their long necks, upright posture, distinct faces and direct gaze, they’re decidedly charismatic (or terrifying). But more than that, they are fascinating creatures that have mastered their place in the natural world. Case in point? Consider the following.

1. They have great vision
Given the look of those peepers, is it any surprise that they have stereo vision? They can see in 3-D and their eyes each have a fovea – a concentrated area that allows them to focus and track with acuity. Aside from those two large compound eyes, they also have three spare simple eyes located in between.

2. They are agile like cats
To the surprise of scientists filming them, mantises have been found to jump with extreme precision, contorting their body midair to land on a precarious and specific target. Watch the video below; athletic, right?

3. They make swift work of their prey
Praying mantises wait to ambush or patiently stalk their prey; but once they’re ready to strike, they do so with lightning speed, attacking with those big front legs so quickly that it’s hard to see with the naked eye. In addition, they have spikes on their legs to skewer and pin the victims into place.

4. They are masters of disguise
Praying mantises are supremely gifted when it comes to camouflage. They come in the form of leaves and sticks and branches, like many insects, but also take it a bit further. Some mantises molt at the end of a dry season to become black, conveniently aligning themselves with the brush fires that leave a blackened landscape. The flower mantises are crazy; some wildly ornate, others looking so convincing that unsuspecting insects come to collect nectar from them … and become dinner in the meantime.

5. The only eat live food
Mantises like their food still moving, apparently. Which makes them helpful in pest control as they sup on all kinds of insects, including crickets and grasshoppers.

6. They disrupt the food chain
But they don’t stop at eating insects. As mentioned above, they commonly target hummingbirds! Not to mention warblers, sunbirds, honeyeaters, flycatchers, vireos and European robins, in addition to frogs and lizards. And then there’s this nugget from the New York Times on the topic: “In two reported cases, females feasted on birds while copulating with males.” Now that’s moxie.

7. They go zombie
Well, in their taste in body parts, that is; when they capture birds, they go straight for the brains.

8. They do have predators
Even though they stalk hummingbirds and are masterful hunters, they are also the hunted. Their predators include frogs, lizards, and birds, and spiders.

9. They do battle with bats
Praying mantises are also preyed upon by bats, but they are no easy victim. They can detect the bats’ echolocation sounds and when they are approached, they dive to the ground, often executing spirals and loops on their way; if caught, they try to slash their way to freedom by use of their big spiky front legs. Bam! Pow!

10. They were thought to have special powers
Well, obviously they have special powers, but early civilizations, including Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, and Assyria considered them to have supernatural powers. (The mantis part of the name comes from the Greek for prophet.) Is it any wonder? They are often characterized as a femme fatale as well; see next point.

11. They engage in risky sex
Black widows shouldn’t get all fun, praying mantises dabble in the femme fatale arts as well. Mama mantises lay an especially large bunch of eggs, which means they need a lot of food. Which means, unfortunately for their partners, they may literally bite off their head and devour them. And they may even do this during the course of their three-hour mating session. A little bit of coital cannibalism may also add to the success of the copulation. Hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…

Praying Mantis

Dangerous and Poisonous Snakes in Spain

Snakes in Spain. In Spain there is 13 different types of snakes, and you may have heard stories of dangerous and poisonous snakes in the Spanish forests. The most dangerous period is in the spring and summer as they hide during the cooler months of fall and winter.

While there are many snakes in Spain, they are mainly found in the mountainous and forested areas. Generally snakes are rarely seen (unless you are a keen hiker or climber.) And very few people are bitten. The snakes stays far away from people, and if you see one, it`s at least as frightened as you, and they attack only if they feel threatened. If you find one overran snakes roadside or find a snakeskin, it is a good indicator of a healthy and varied landscape where it is snakes.

Snakes are quite common in Spain, it is unlikely to see one as they stay away from people. Of the estimated 50 snakebite deaths a year in Europe, there are only 3-6, which happens in Spain, so do not worry too much. Of these 3.1 occurs in Catalonia where there is the highest risk category. The odds of death by snakebite in any part of Spain is more than 13.3 million to one or put it another way the same odds as winning the lottery. There is a much higher chance of dying from a bee or wasp stings, but that is also very rare.

Lataste’s Viper

Lataste’s Viper is present in the Spanish peninsula. It is gray and short (around 50cm) and is characterized by its triangular head and a zigzag pattern on the back. It lives in dry, rocky areas. Be especially careful when collecting firewood and do not put your fingers in holes or cracks where this where the snake can be.

Seoane’s Viper

This snake is dangerous. It lives in Galicia, Leon, Biscay coastal strip (Cornisa Cantábrica) and Basque.

Asp Viper

A very poisonous snake in the cobra family where the venom from a bite can lead to cardiac arrest and death. There are not many in Spain, and is believed to be limited to the Pyrenees. If you are bitten by this poisonous snake, seek medical attention immediately.can be.

False Smooth Snake

This snake is not aggressive and is mainly seen in Catalonia. But no matter which snake you see in Spain, it is advised to stay away.

Den Adder or Common Viper

Found in most parts of Europe, including Spain. A bite of this snake is very painful and can be dangerous, especially for children and older people. It can also be fatal for someone who has a bad health condition. If you are bitten, seek medical attention immediately.

The Montpellier Snake

This snake is blackish, or olive with a white belly and can grow to over 6 feet long. Hogg teeth are poisonous. Its bite is not fatal, but is uncomfortable and painful, and you are advised to consult a doctor if bitten. This snake lives in open, sunny areas around the Mediterranean.

The wild mountain goats

frequently found in herds across the mountain ranges of Andalucia are Spanish Ibex.

There were, until fairly recently, more subspecies spaced around the Iberian peninsula, but now only two exist. They are the Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica hispanica) and the Gredos ibex (Capra pyrenaica victoriae). Two are now extinct, the Portuguese ibex (Capra pyrenaica lusitanica) and the Pyrenean Ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica).

Ibex, which originate exclusively in the mountains of Iberia, are known as cabra montés in Spanish. They are generally shades of brown around the body with black markings on the chest, flanks and legs in the males, whereas the females are paler. The adult males can reach a weight of between 80-100 kilograms and are approximately double the size of the females. Colour and size variations can be noticed depending on their whereabouts within the peninsula. Both sexes have horns with a maximum length of 30 centimetres in the females, while those of the males grow to far greater dimensions, reaching 80 centimetres. In older males, the horns can be one metre in length. The horns curve back over their heads, the shape can be flattened or rounded and differs across the country,

Generally shy creatures, these native ungulates (mammals with divided hooves) live around oak or pine woodland on the edges of open rocky areas of altitude ranging between 200 to 3,300 metres. They favour higher reaches during the warmer months when they can show considerable skill on climbing onto seemingly impossible cliffs and descend for improved shelter during the winter.

Wild boar

Although a boar is actually a male pig or hog, the term is widely used as a common name for the species. 

For the Spanish wild boar shoulder height is 30-47 inches (76-119 cm). Weight 150-400 pounds (68-181 kg), sometimes as much as 700 pounds (317 kg).

Females are somewhat smaller than males and have much smaller tusks.
A medium-sized animal with a thick body, relatively thin legs, a short neck, and a long, pointed head ending in a disklike snout. 

Spanish wild boar´s coat is dense, bristly hair, brownish-gray in color, sometimes with cheek whiskers and a neck mane. Each foot has four toes, the middle two supporting the body. Canine teeth are usually well-developed, forming tusks. Stomach is two-chambered and non-ruminating.
Gregarious, living in family groups, though old boars may be solitary. When undisturbed, it is active morning and afternoon, resting midday and at night. The Spanish wild boar becomes nocturnal when harassed. Eats all kinds of vegetable matter, also small animals and carrion. Sense of smell is very good, hearing good, eyesight only fair. Wary and alert. A fast runner and strong swimmer. 

The habitat for the Spanish wild boar is undergrowth and forest, at any altitude. Requires water for drinking.

wild boar
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