Yerevan and around
From 24 May till 2 June 2009 we visited Central Armenia. Or should we say Hayastan? because that’s the Armenian name for the country. Anyway, it is written in a unique alphabet that doesn’t look familiair to any other language. Can you imagine how helpless we were, not being able to read neither speak much in Armenian. And the fact that all Armenians easily speak Russian didn’t make much difference. All the more reason to especially acknowledge the English speaking herpetologist Marine Arakelyan from Yerevan State University. She guided us around, arranged very exclusive places to stay and provided ideal opportunities to see much of Armenia’s herpetofauna. We also thank Marine’s dedicated student Anna Vardanyan and mammologists George Papov and Tigran Hayrapetyan for being such good company and for their contribution to make this trip unforgettable.
We arrived late at Zvartnots airport, warmly welcomed by Marine and her husband. After picking up our brand new mini-bus at Hertz, the next stop was the convenient apartment in the centre of Yerevan, that Marine rented for us during our whole stay. No matter how late it was already, we had to eat first, according to Marine. Not a bad idea at all, since Marine and her mother had prepared some excellent food.
To our surprise Marine showed up lately in the morning. While we were eagerly waiting to go out in the field as quickly as possible, Marine said: “Don’t worry, the snakes are not out yet.” And she was right. At this time of year (spring and early summer) most herpetofauna in Armenia doesn’t seem to show up before noon. So after lunch, prepared by Anna, we left Yerevan to explore our first destination.
This well-preserved and impressive monastery, also known as Geghardavank, was built in 1215 A.D. It is actually a complex of churches, sometimes completely dug out of the surrounding cliff rocks and woodland. We were stunned by this beautiful place, which is a perfect mixture of culture and nature. A walk around the complex soon resulted in several reptile species completely new to us. On the walls of the monastery we found quite a few beautifully coloured Darevskia raddei. These lizards were used to people and proved to be willing models in front of our cameras.
To our big surprise the first snake of that day was a spotted whip snake, Hemorrhois ravergieri, which was found close to the Monastery. We took our time to do some photography, while Marine and Anna did their research on the lizards.
The next stop was the Temple of Garni, an almost 2000 years old Hellenic temple. Besides a few glass lizards, we were mainly impressed, rather shocked, by the skins of wolf, fox, lynx and marten that were openly for sale in one of the tourist shops!
Not far from Garni, south-east of Yerevan, we visited an area of semi-desert. Finsch’s wheatear was spotted here, and we found several collared dwarf snakes (Eirenis collaris). After a short desert rain shower, Ronald found the first viper under a rock: a subadult blunt-nosed viper (Macrovipera lebetina)! Our adrenaline level increased even more when we also found a large specimen of Schneider’s skink (Eumeces schneideri) and a Schmidt’s whip snake (Hierophis schmidti). Our first day in Armenia was a big success!
|Reptiles & amphibians||Yerevan and around|
|Marsh frog||Pelophylax ridibunda||5|
|Green toad||Bufo viridis||1|
|Levant Green Lizard||Lacerta media||3|
|Caucasus Green Lizard||Lacerta strigata||2|
|Snake-eyed Lacertid||Ophisops elegans||1|
|Slow worm||Anguis fragilis||1|
|Glass Lizard||Ophisaurus apodus||9|
|Schneider’s Skink||Eumeces schneideri||2|
|Worm snake||Typhlops vermicularis||7|
|Collared dwarf snake||Eirenis collaris||9|
|Dotted dwarf snake||Eirenis punctatolineatus||1|
|Spotted whip snake||Hemorrhois ravergieri||1|
|Schmidt’s whip snake||Hierophis schmidti||2|
|Dice snake||Natrix tessellata||1|
|Grass snake||Natrix natrix||1|
|Armenian viper||Montivipera raddei||4|
|Blunt-nosed viper||Macrovipera lebetina||1|
|Laughing Dove||Streptopelia senegalensis||1|
|Egyptian Vulture||Neophron percnopterus||2|
|Finsch’s Wheatear||Oenanthe finschii||2|
|Krupers’s Nuthatch||Sitta krueperi||1|
The next morning we went to the Hatice Mountain. About halfway, we took a break and discovered several Levant green lizards (Lacerta media). Our first amphibian, a marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibunda) was a fact here too.
Hatice mountain is known as a place where Armenian viper, Montivipera raddei, can be found. Unfortunately, due to poor weather conditions (cool, cloudy, a little rain) that afternoon, vipers were not found. However, we did find dotted dwarf snake (Eirenis punctatolineatus).
To find Armenian viper, we needed another visit to Hatice mountain, and help from researchers studying this endangered species ….
The Armenian mountain viper (Montivipera raddei) is a flagship species not to be missed. It occurs in higher altitudes than Macrovipera lebetina and is strictly confined to the Armenian highlands and mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. The Armenian population declined dramatically over the last decades, partly because these colourful vipers might get caught away by pet-collectors and traders. Although the Armenian viper is on the red book and protected by Armenian law, collection still goes on. Since 2004 the species is closely studied by people from Saint Louis Zoo (Missouri, USA), in cooperation withthe Institute of Zoology of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Their research aims to increase the ecological knowledge on this species, necessary to develop effective conservation guidelines. We were very lucky to join Jeff Ettling, Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics at the Saint Louis Zoo, and some of his colleagues, on a field trip to the Abovian Region near Jerevan, where he monitors a population of tagged Armenian vipers. This was a good opportunity to find several without having to scrutinize every rock. More information on the research: http://www.stlzoo.org/wildcareinstitute/mountainvipersinarmenia/
Yerevan a combination of Lada and Porsche Cayenne
Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan, with its 1.3 million inhabitants, is by far the biggest city of the country; 33% of the resident Armenian population nowadays lives in Yerevan. Yerevan’s symbol is Mount Ararat, an impressive 5000+ m high old volcano that dominates the landscape to the west. At an average altitude of nearly a thousand meters a.s.l, the continental climate of Yerevan (and the whole of Armenia) is quite extreme; summers are hot and dry, winters are cold. During our stay, which was in between these extremes, weather conditions were ok for herping, although a little bit cool for spring.