Looking for advice from more experienced herpers :)
I’m new to herping (I’ve just started a few months ago) but it’s one of my greatest hobbies now, it all started with getting fascinated with geckos during the lockdown and reading as much as I could about these cute creature. Fortunately, I live in a place with a lot of herps (Southeastern Turkey), so when the lockdown ended and weather got warmer I started field herping. My city has a 5 km long ancient defense wall and some rocky areas adjacent to this wall - much loved by lizards. Whenever I go there I observe Mediodactylus geckos (orientalis and possibly heterocercus - but not completely sure about that), Roughtail rock agamas (Stellagama stellio) including many babies and juveniles, and Levant skinks (Heremites auratus). I also find many frogs and toads. But so far I have only seen a snake once and it was a Dahl’s whip snake (Platyceps najadum). The same happens when I travel to other cities and countries - somehow lizards and amphibians are always there, but I don’t find snakes. I know that some snakes are nocturnal, but for instance whip snakes are diurnal and if I’ve seen it once it means there should be more :)
Could it be because I mostly make my observations in urban areas / close to urban areas (not crowded,but also not completely deserted)? Is is the same all over the world that lizards are much easier to spot?
I have ordered a book about field herping, but living in a country with slow postal service I can’t hope to get it before mid-September :) Therefore I’ll be thankful for any tips on finding snakes, especially that I’m going to travel to another country (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in a few days and I’d like to do some herping there as well :) Thanks in advance!
Looking for advice from more experienced herpers :)
It’s definitely the case that lizards are much easier to find than snakes everywhere, except in very special circumstances (like a den full of snakes). So your experience there is completely normal. Lizards are generally lower on the food chain (for example, many snake species eat a lot of lizards, so there have to be a lot more lizards than snakes for that to be sustainable). Also many snakes are nocturnal, as you said. Also, many snakes are underground a large percentage of the time.
Where I live, there are no native lizards. Only a limited number of species of snakes and some turtles. So I guess it depends on your locale and climate!
What @sullivanribbet says makes sense though, for the places where they both exist.
@sullivanribbit Thank you, it definitely makes sense! From your experience, does it make sense to look for snakes farther away from urban areas? Where I live people generally hate snakes and kill them whenever they see them (they even believe if a snake sees you but you don’t kill it later it will come back to kill you) Could it be that snakes somehow adjust and tend to stay away from people?
Anyway lizards (and geckos in particular) are my favorite, so I’m happy I can find them easily, but it would be nice to observe more snakes as well.
Yes, almost everywhere, lizards are easy to find than snakes. There are likely many reasons but two come quickly to my brain:
Lizards are often just more numerous than snakes. In some areas, they reach really high abundances. In this case, you’ll see more lizards just due to probabilities.
Many lizards use some sort of visual signalling (which is rarer in snakes). As such, they choose places where they can signal. One byproduct of this is that they are more visible to humans.
I would say that, in general, lizards thrive in more urbanized areas than snakes do. A part of that is probably down to humans killing snakes, both intentionally and unintentionally (cars, lawnmowers, etc.). So yes, less urbanized would lead to better chance of finding snakes. However, even in some urban areas you can still find snakes (in my experience). It obviously depends on what species are present near you, but in cities I’ve found snakes in overgrown lots/refuse piles as well as aquatic/marshy habitats.
Good luck herping!
Depends of course on where you live since the diversity of snakes vs lizards vs other herpetofauna can vary a lot.
Lizards are typically diurnal and many are baskers, so that makes them more visible. Snakes are generally more nocturnal and more cryptic overall, with a few exceptions. Where I live in the Southwestern U.S., I have to usually go road-cruising at night, best after a summer rain, to find a diversity of snakes. For lizards, I search in daylight, usually on a warm, clear day. Some lizards are more snake-like in being hard to spot, like skinks. Some snakes, like whipsnakes, may be out cruising around on hot days … looking for hot lizards!
It is my impression, that on average, snakes are more likely to be hiding under a rock, log, or other material, than a lizard. So if you aren’t looking under objects they would be hiding under you would find a smaller proportion of snakes. I would add that these rocks, logs, and other objects they hide under, are the roofs of their homes, and if you look under them, you need to put them back in the exact position they were before you turned them over.
I thought I had a book on the Herpetofauna of Turkey on my bookshelf but now can’t find it. Not surprising because my library is chaotic.
Seems that there is such a guide, perhaps now rather out-of-date, but you might look into that.
Most of my life, I would have said the exact opposite. I grew up in a place (Oregon, and most of the Pacific Northwest), where snakes are a pretty normal occurrence when you are outdoors, but lizards are still a rarity.
To specify, almost all of the snakes observed there are common garter snakes, in their different subspecies. These are small, nonvenomous snakes that eat insects and maybe small rodents. I have never lived in a place where there were many large snakes, or a very diverse amount of snakes. Just the cute harmless garter snakes slithering around.
I don’t know why the northwestern US has so many snakes, while lizards are a rarity. I thought that was the rule, not the exception!
My sense is that the wetter parts of the US have the lowest lizard diversity while the deserts have the highest. Doesn’t hold for snakes which occupy a greater range of habitats than lizards in North America. We have various types of water snakes but no water lizards,
I have made 145 snake recordings on iNat and 740 lizards. Given that I photograph every snake I can and only the first lizard of a species per day/site these numbers are actually flattering for snakes.
I find it interesting that some areas of North America were mentioned to have more snakes but those appear to be a lot of insectivorous ones, normally the food of lizards.
As already mentioned, many snakes will eat lizards but the large monitor lizards in Australia actively hunt snakes!
Here in southern Ontario we only have one species of lizard and it’s very rare and only found in some locations. However, I see a snake or two on most hikes in the summer
I was foolishly overgeneralizing when I said that lizards are much easier to find than snakes “everywhere”, as several people have made clear. In my experience, it is the case in most ecosystems, but certainly not all. Like @reiner, I usually try to record every snake I see, and only a small percentage of the lizards, but even so my iNat observations are skewed heavily towards lizards (1981) over snakes (702). I have travelled extensively around the world to find these critters, so I’m not just basing my thoughts on local conditions.
Same here in Fort Collins, Colorado. I see snakes (particularly the Plains Garter Snake) all the time, but I almost never see any lizards. I also assumed that this snake-to-lizard ratio was normal most places, but I guess not!
In my experience in Fort Collins, Colorado, snakes are much, MUCH easier to find than lizards. However, with only about 19 reptile and 6 amphibian species in Larimer County, it’s not the greatest place for herping.
It is very much the case in New Zealand! Our only snakes are sea snakes which are not seen by the general public very often at all!
Found the book I was thinking of, but it does not cover Turkey. However, the area it covers includes Iraq right up to the southeastern Turkish border.
“Handbook to Middle East Amphibians and Reptiles” (1992) by Alan E. Leviton, S.C. Anderson, K. Adler, and S.A. Minton. Published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Beautiful color plates of species covered. ID keys, range information, Literature Cited. Not really a field guide but would be useful for IDing any herp in that area. (hardback).
I hope the book is Pingleton and Holbrook’s Field Herping Guide. Mike and Josh put together a great book about how to and the proper ethics of looking for reptiles and amphibians! Mike has also started a great podcast talking to other field herpers and it is a fun listen - look for “So Much Pingle” where you find podcasts.
For diurnal snakes in the summer months, go out early in the day when they are most active. Walk along those rock walls slowly and carefully and you should be able to spot more snakes. Lizards are easier to spot because they sit out in the open to thermoregulate whereas snakes often sit in more concealed areas. Also snakes are higher up the food chain so there are less snakes than there are lizards.
It may help to observe other people looking for herps to see how they go about it. Most herping videos on youtube are in North America which may not be similar to your conditions. But there is a good series of videos on YouTube from Lebanon which would be more similar to your herping there in Turkey. Look on YouTube for “Herping Lebanon RK”.
In Manitoba we must have some lizards, but I have never seen one in my life. Seen lots of garter snakes, though. Don’t know if we have any other species!
Thank you very much for your informative response. Yes, the book I have ordered is Pingleton and Holbrook’s “Field Herping Guide”, hopefully I will get it in a couple of weeks.
I will definitely check the Lebanese YouTube channel, I believe it will be useful because we have similar weather conditions.
At the moment I’m on a trip in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Southeastern Europe) and again I have observed 4 species of lizards, a tortoise, but no snakes :) So I guess my problem isn’t just about my region, I lack some general snake-spotting skills :)