No Lizards in the Maltese Countryside

Posts and messages relating the Reptila and Amphibia Class (lizards, newts, frogs, toads...)

Moderators: MWP admin, IL-PINE

Post Reply
AntonB
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 9:06 pm

No Lizards in the Maltese Countryside

Post by AntonB » Mon Apr 21, 2008 10:29 pm

I have been puzzled for a number of years about the total disappearance of the local lizard from the Maltese (not Gozitan) countryside. I searched the internet to see if anyone else has commented on this, or better still, may have an explanation. This led me to this forum, particularly the topic relating to the Selmunett lizard - which actually opened more questions than answers.

Here are a few of my observations:

1. I remember going for walks in the countryside in Malta (mostly the Mellieha area) when I was a child (that's over 30 years ago :( ) and seeing lizards all over the place. In fact we used to go lizard hunting in the fields in Mellieha where I grew up and often catch 10 lizards from a small stretch of rubble wall (we used to let them go unharmed of course :) ). Unfortunately, over a few years I noticed that the lizards disappeared and instead there was an abandance of skinks for some time (this must have been ~1985) (my cat used to love ctaching skinks and bringing them home half dead as prizes). Soon after even these disappeared - although you do still see the occasional skink even now.

2. This disappearance does not seem to have ocurred in Gozo, where you still see hundres of lizards wherever you walk in the countryside.

3. Strangely enough lizards in Malta are still quite abundant in urban areas. You see many around the streets of Attard where I live (my kids and I feed one-winged flies to our adopted lizard in the back yard). Even Marsa Industrial Estate where I work is full of them.

4. Having read the sad story of the Selmunett lizard's apparent extinction in this forum, I question whether this can definitely be attributable to rats or whether it is part of the overall decline in lizard rural poputation in Malta.

The most logical explanation is that possibly pesticides may have killed the lizards in Malta, but wouldn't they use the same pesticides in Gozo as in Malta. And would this explain the disappearance of lizards in Malta even from remote areas far from agricultural land?

Maybe a disease that did not make it to Gozo? But why would populations in urban areas not be affected? And why wouldn't populations recover after so many years? It should not be so difficult for lizards to move from urban to rural areas.

Maybe a predator or poisonous plant introduced in the Maltese coutryside but not in Gozo or urban Malta?

Does anyone have a better explanation?

User avatar
MWP admin
Site Admin
Posts: 3140
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2005 11:23 am
Location: Malta
Contact:

Post by MWP admin » Tue Apr 22, 2008 6:34 am

Hi

Maybe you can make an excercise and see what pesticides they sell in agric. shops in Malta and compared them with those sold in Gozo. I would say that only places were there are many fields are effected, though this needs more deep study rather than a tentative assumption.

I admit that this 2 years i seen a decrease in numbers of lizards.

Stephen
Stephen Mifsud
Administrator

{Comments} {Donation} {Recommendations}

RB
Premium Member
Posts: 838
Joined: Tue Sep 12, 2006 6:07 pm

Post by RB » Tue Apr 22, 2008 10:09 am

Anton, I noted that too - well actually what I did note was that there are plenty more lizards (by about a factor of 10) in Gozo than there are in Malta.

And also, they seem to be doing perfectly well in an urban environment.

I am not convinced of the pesticide link, they are not present in large numbers even in areas where the land is not cultivated, etc, and anyway anything used in Malta is used in Gozo, not to mention that today's pesticides (technically, insecticides) are very selective indeed.

Every theory I have has massive holes.

Rats? Plenty in Gozo, too.
Cats? This would possibly result in an inverse situation.
Disease? Why not the urban lizards affected too, and most certainly at some point in time lizards have crossed the channel and still do, aboard cargo/vehicles, etc.
Other predators? Snakes, but probably far more in Gozo than Malta.

Something I am just thinking of at the moment - maybe we have here an introduced alien insect or something that attacks the lizard's eggs, and this alien is found predominantly in the countryside and not urban environments?

Re the skinks, I have always noted these to be relatively plentiful, I have not noted any spike in populations.

Boqq...

RB

robcar
Veteran member
Posts: 255
Joined: Fri Dec 30, 2005 6:09 pm
Location: Malta

Post by robcar » Wed Apr 23, 2008 10:36 pm

Lizards are also very common on Comino - here pesticide use must be negligible except for the few cultivated fields.

AntonB, I also noticed that lizards in the Maltese countryside have practically disappeared over recent years. It is an interesting research question, but one which is probably rather difficult to answer. I definitely have no plausible explanation.

AntonB
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 9:06 pm

Post by AntonB » Sun Apr 27, 2008 9:24 pm

RB says "actually what I did note was that there are plenty more lizards (by about a factor of 10) in Gozo than there are in Malta". The situation is worse than this. I have not seen a single lizard in the coutryside in Malta for ages and I hike around many different places with my family every Sunday.

Another hypothesis could be that a disease wiped out most lizards in Malta (maybe including St. Paul's Islands) but spared a few isolated communities in urban Malta and did not spread to Comino and Gozo (maybe a short-lived aggressive disease). If this were the case we would hope that with time some lizards will migrate back to the countryside and repopulate it.

It would be interesting to try to introduce a few lizards from urban Malta to some countryside site and see whether they survive and multiply. (This would be a good school project - except that most students are too busy studying English, Maths, Maltese and Religion to have time to waste on an interesting project like this!).

User avatar
IL-PINE
Premium Member
Posts: 1112
Joined: Wed Sep 07, 2005 2:55 pm
Location: Qormi
Contact:

Post by IL-PINE » Sun Apr 27, 2008 10:45 pm

I must say that I did not notice it, but now on retrospect I have to agree.

RB
Premium Member
Posts: 838
Joined: Tue Sep 12, 2006 6:07 pm

Post by RB » Mon Apr 28, 2008 10:11 am

AntonB wrote:... I have not seen a single lizard in the coutryside in Malta for ages and I hike around many different places with my family every Sunday.
I have one place in mind which I very clearly remember in my childhood that was absolutely full of lizards, and very tame ones at that. It's the valley that leads to Mgiebah bay from Selmun.

Definitely also countryside, farmland, definitely previously plenty of lizards, nothing has changed since that time, so in a way, a control - basically also everything that reflects Gozo.

I wonder what the situation is nowadays - in a rather unscientific manner of course this would reinforce or otherwise the theory that something has happened to decimate the lizard population.

As an aside and totally unrelated, I am seeing a number of black snakes in the countryside, and actually handled a rather large one last week, one of the largest I have seen for ages. A side effect of the spring trapping/hunting ban is that probably more of these will escape a load of buckshot.

RB

AntonB
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 9:06 pm

Post by AntonB » Mon May 05, 2008 9:15 pm

I have one place in mind which I very clearly remember in my childhood that was absolutely full of lizards, and very tame ones at that. It's the valley that leads to Mgiebah bay from Selmun.
I happened to be in the next valley over towards St. Paul's Islands just yesterday and I can assure you there was not a single lizard! There were a few beautiful pyramidal orchids, but no lizards!

RB
Premium Member
Posts: 838
Joined: Tue Sep 12, 2006 6:07 pm

Post by RB » Tue May 06, 2008 10:03 am

Sunday I passed through the valley that runs alongside Siggiewi up to the road/bridge that links Zebbug to Siggiewi, and at the upper reaches at least, there were plenty of lizards.

RB

RB
Premium Member
Posts: 838
Joined: Tue Sep 12, 2006 6:07 pm

Post by RB » Mon May 26, 2008 6:12 pm

There seem to be a fair few lizards down south, definitely not over-run as Gozo seems to be but nevertheless present in reasonable numbers.

Who knows, maybe some disease decimated the numbers and they are making a comeback??

Maybe this disease did not cross over to Gozo.

RB

User avatar
MWP admin
Site Admin
Posts: 3140
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2005 11:23 am
Location: Malta
Contact:

Post by MWP admin » Mon May 26, 2008 9:00 pm

Sometimes I see a lot too... :!: :?: so we see next year for better evaluation. The disease thing makes sense.
Stephen Mifsud
Administrator

{Comments} {Donation} {Recommendations}

John Holst
Active Member
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2009 9:23 am
Location: Denmark

Post by John Holst » Thu Apr 09, 2009 12:41 pm

Yesterday, when I used a couple of hours in the garigue from the Danish Mellieha Holiday Centre to Ras in-Niexfa I saw more than five lizards and no skinks. Inside the holiday there are lots of skinks, but I havent spotted a single lizard.

The biggest difference between centre park area and garigue area which could affect the population of lizards: There are big fat cats everywhere within the park area and absolutely none in the garigue.
Occupation: Nature interpreter
Education: Botanist, University of Copenhagen

User avatar
MWP admin
Site Admin
Posts: 3140
Joined: Mon Sep 05, 2005 11:23 am
Location: Malta
Contact:

Post by MWP admin » Thu Apr 09, 2009 10:04 pm

Thanks for reporting the situation.

Cats is one of the enemies of the poor lizards. Indirectly, men is also an enemy of the lizards mainly due to application of pesticides and pollution of water. I think skinks are much more timid from lizards and do not give cats much chance of play. The bright green colour of the lizards might also be more attractful for the eyes of the cats.

Enjoy your holiday!
Stephen Mifsud
Administrator

{Comments} {Donation} {Recommendations}

Post Reply