Snake bite poof gloves: A clarification

This is an excerpt from a larger article published on my website: Snake Bite Protection Gloves.

I found out that not only the information from dealers but even from the manufacturer are the cause of this confusion. The following pictures are screenshots from the online catalog of HexArmor (see http://www.hexarmor.com) where two models of Hercules gloves are presented. The first, called R8E, is cut, puncture and also needle stick resistant, the second – 400R6E – is only cut and puncture resistant.

The original “venom defender” gloves by HexArmor, USA (Screenshot from http://www.hexarmor.com)

The current model of gloves with long gauntlets by HexArmor is not needle puncture resistant. (Screenshot from http://www.hexarmor.com)

Not only the product image is the same but also the use purpose: Both these gloves are recommended for use in animal handling. The flyer about HexArmour Hercules 400R6E is telling us: “These gloves are no stranger to dangerous applications such as handling razorwire or protecting from animal bites.” (see it here). Indeed, the 400R6E seems to be more popular because it does what the manufacturer promises in most use situations and costs less than a half of the cost of the other model. According to the product flyer, the gloves R8E are designed for use in animal handling and veterinary as well (see here). The only difference is the needle stick resistance. Apparently, the R8E gloves were not so frequently ordered as 400R6E, and HexArmor stopped their regular production a couple of years ago. Now, they are distributed by the UK company Polyco and manufactured in small quantities on request.

HexArmor Hercules R8E (or model 3180) were those gloves that became famous as snake bite resistant. They were the gloves that king cobras, puff adders, black mambas and many other highly dangerous snakes are biting and chewing on hundreds of photographs and videos throughout the Internet. Hercules R8E are now rare and very expensive. I do not know exactly how their production and distribution is organised. The gloves are still labeled as HexArmor but it looks like Polyco (that distributes many kinds of protection wear and even has own brands) currently has exclusive rights for their worldwide distribution. Therefore HexArmor is saying on the website that the interested buyers should contact Polyco for pricing and availability. Apparently zoos are the main market niche for the R8E gloves. Another UK company 121 Animal Handling Products supplies them to end customers and sells online via the website snakeprofessional.com as “Venom Defender Gloves”. There is a number of small dealers in other countries who resell the gloves to a little higher prices. For instance, in Germany it is zooprofis.de.

The so often rising question about the “right” gloves, quality concerns, and even rumours about accidents may indicate that some people bought and keep buying wrong gloves, i.e. the model 400R6E. Not only the manufacturer who stopped production of R8E (3180) but also the dealers do not sufficiently explain the differences and never point at a possibility of a mistake. Some newer dealers may even not know that another very similar looking model of gloves has been produced and sold some time ago and that it was so different. They just praise the 400R6E as protection from almost everything without any warning that they are not designed for use with venomous snakes. Even some specialised suppliers of tools for reptile keepers and herpetologists were offering 400R6E gloves. When I bought mine in 2010, the same gloves could be ordered in the online shop of Midwest Tongs, in zooprofis.de and even on shows in Hamm and Hauten. Priced at 180 – 220€, even these, “cheaper”, gloves were expensive in Europe. I got my 400R6E gloves from a supplier of industrial protection wear. I knew that they were not needle stick resistant. However, no better options were around, and I even did not know that better gloves may exist. Apparently many reptile keepers did not know it too and were buying 400R6E gloves regarding they as a better protection than welder gloves anyway.

I used my 400R6E gloves with viperids up to 60–70 cm long. The snakes were biting the gloves but the teeth were never getting through or even into the fabric. I suppose that the teeth never got in the spaces between armour plates. A 400R6E glove is very well lined and padded inside, hence a short tooth may even not reach the hand if it gets through the SuperFarbirc® layer. When I was holding a large and 15 kg heavy cactus Carnegia gigantea some of its long and hard needles got through the glove and pricked my hands a little but did not puncture the skin. I assume that a 400R6E glove would prevent a snake tooth from sticking into the hand as well. However, there is, of course, not so strong confidence in that as with a glove that is designed for needle stick protection.

Meanwhile, Midwest Tongs stopped selling 400R6E gloves and seems not offer any bite protection gloves at the moment. Some other suppliers of herpetological and reptile keeping tools still sell 400R6E. The prices in Europe increased to as much as 360 € in some shops. The cheapest offer that I recently saw in one online shop was for 170 €. The price increase can be explained by currently low exchange rate of the euro, but also by the offers of much more expensive R8E (3180) gloves that appeared recently again. It seems like some dealers are again trying to sell their 400R6E for the price of R8E (3180) making use of confusion of buyers and not emphasising the difference.

Of course, 400R6E are great gloves. They provide adequate protection for handling of small mammals, birds with sharp claws, small crocodiles, monitors and other large lizards, as well as most snakes. However, the users should be cautious and not expect from them as high level of protection as from R8E (3180) gloves. This should be always clear to everyone, and someone who buys 400R6E should know all the limitations and try not to go beyond particularly when handling large and aggressive venomous snakes. He or she should not be mislead by pictures of snakes viciously biting HexArmor gloves because those gloves are different! Unfortunately too few people seem to know this. Thus, every new bite accident or just a report of someone whose glove, but not hand(!), got punctured by a snake tooth causes a next wave of discussions and doubts in usefulness of gloves.

It is strange to see how the policy of the manufacturer and the dealers who do not sufficiently inform the customers harms the image of a product. HexArmor knows, of course, that the Hercules R8E became standard gloves for snake handling and that they are often confused with Hercules 400R6E. To see this, you need just to search the Internet for “HexArmor Hercules R8E”: At least a half of search results would be showing HexArmor 400R6E. Yet HexArmor could avoid this confusion if they would make one of these models look clearly different than the other: It may be colour, overall design, labels, product name, etc. This would not only further improve the image the product but also prevent potentially life threatening accidents. It surprises me that HexArmor has not done it in so many years.

For me it was also difficult to distinguish the two HexArmor Hercules models till I got both and could compare them side by side. By the way, my confusion and poor availability of better alternatives on the market made me purchase Hercules 400R6E in 2010.

The best way to ensure that you have got real HexArmor Hercules R8E (3180) is to order them from snakeprofessional.com. Currently they sell the gloves for 249 £ plus shipment under the name Venom Defender Animal Handling Gloves (Hercules™ 3180 R8E) Most probably you won’t find a lower price for new gloves elsewhere because 121 Animal Handling Products and snakeprofessional.com are the primary retailer of this product. The prices in other stores are at least the same, but often even higher.

If you come across a good offer elsewhere, first you should ensure that what you are buying are really the gloves R8E (a.k.a 3180). The seller may even not know the difference himself and have just Hercules 400R6E. I have seen offers of 400R6E gloves on Amazon and eBay for 500 $! To distinguish between these two models, look at the description of the offer and find the following information:

  1. The model name should contain the code R8E and 3180, or at least one of both.
  2. The description should contain the statement that the gloves are “needle stick resistant”
  3. If it is an official HexArmor dealer, there may be one of these pictures:

The gloves provide needle stick protection over the entire hand and forearm, i.e. are of model R8E

The gloves provide needle stick protection over the entire hand and forearm, i.e. are of model R8E

The gloves provide no needle stick protection, but only cut and puncture protection all over the hand and forearm, i.e. are of the model 400R6E

The gloves provide no needle stick protection, but only cut and puncture protection all over the hand and forearm, i.e. are of the model 400R6E

“Orange” means “very good”. “Blue” is still “good”, but it means that the gloves are Hercules 400R6E, and you should not pay more than 200–250 euros for a pair. Someone who is requesting more wants to cheat you.

If the description reads like of real venom defenders, take a look at the gloves. Even if it is a photograph, you should recognise that they are black and not dark grey. See a comparison on these pictures:

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - palm side compared

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) – palm side compared

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) - back side compared.

HexArmor Hercules 400R6E (left) and R8E (right) – back side compared.

In older versions of both models the cuffs had a blue border, and the HexArmor label was hexagonal. Now, the company has a different design of the logo, and the label is rectangular, as shown on the pictures below. The border of the cuffs is now black (at least in R8E): Even if it is shown as blue on product photographs, it will be most probably black in the gloves that you receive, unless you have purchased an older model. Note also the difference in the fabric structure that is clearly recognisable in the photographs below.

Label on a Hercules R8E glove.

Label on a Hercules R8E glove.

Label on a Hercules 400R6E glove.

Label on a Hercules 400R6E glove.

The model name can be found on tags inside the gloves. The information that the tag provides is also different in each of two models.

Tag inside a Hercules R8E glove.

The tag inside a R8E glove.

Tag inside Hercules 400R6E glove.

Tag inside Hercules 400R6E glove.

Even if the first HexArmor Hercules gloves might be manufactured in the USA, all other were in Asia. The tag in my older 400R6E is telling that they were manufactured in China. The newer R8E are from Pakistan.

Read the whole text of this article here: Snake Bite Protection Gloves.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 5: Gallotia caesaris gomerae

Boettger’s Lizards (Gallotia caesaris) are for La Gomera the same as Western Canaries Lizards (Gallotia galloti for Tenerife — the most common and widespread reptile species. The population on this island is of subspecies G. c. gomerae. Someone who doesn’t want to go to La Gomera but wants to see or to photograph them can do it on Tenerife where G. c. gomerae occur in the town of Los Cristianos because they are being brought there by ferries. In turn, G. galloti already occur on La Gomera, for the same reason.

Boettger’s Lizards are really omnipresent on this island. You can find them on the coast as well as in the middle. Since La Gomera is small and there are no high mountains, there are no barriers that would isolatе populations, causing evolution of subspecies. You can drive around the island in less than a day and would see everywhere G. caesaris looking the same.

The adult individuals of G. caesaris are much smaller than of G. galloti. Males look a little larger than medium-sized European lacertids — such as sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) — and aren’t as colourful as the males of G. galloti.


As usually with young lizards, they allow a closer distance than the adults. However, this isn’t a big help when you are trying to photograph them with a wide-angle lens: The distance is still too large because the lizards are small. This image shows young G. caesaris gomerae shot with a 25mm lens in their habitat at Playa del Inglés.


Feeding gallotias was for me not only a method for getting closer but an act of help the animals to survive in this hot season, particularly after their natural food sources were distroyed by fire.

Overall, G. caesaris on La Gomera appeared to me not as shy as G. galloti on Tenerife. The minimal distance they were allowing was 2-3 meters. Of course, it was too far for photographing with wide-angle lenses, but close enough for good shots at focal length of 150 – 300 mm. For close-up photographs, the lizards needed to be caught. Just like with G. galloti there were no chance to do it with hands, but the method with fishing rod worked with large males very well.

Like other Gallotia species, the adult Boettger’s Lizards feed on fruits and green plants. Therefore, they could be attracted by pieces of banana or other sweet fruit put in a place suitable for photography. In hot sommer months there is not only enough food for them but also water. Therefore juicy fruits may be especially attractive also as a source of drinking water. In fact, I was very surprised to see so many G. caesaris active in areas without any obviously eatable vegetation and without water. Different than on Tenerife, there aren’t so many prickly pears plants, or maybe no at all, because I haven’t seen any. On Tenerife theirs fruits were the only significant source of food for gallotias in this season. Such food was much less available or absent on La Gomera.


It is hard to show in photographs a real scale of the disaster that stroke La Gomera in 2012. More than a quarter of natural sites turned to ash as a result of the most severe fire in the history of the island. The neighbour island — La Palma — is visible here in the background.

The summer 2012 will certainly remain in the history of La Gomera because of the most severe forest fire catastrophe this island had ever seen. As a result, more than a quarter of the endemic laurel forest was destroyed. In huge areas of La Gomera nothing remained but ash. I was glad to notice that large numbers of gallotias survived the fire, but at the same time it was heartbreaking to see them desperately searching for food in what was only ash. When I was in such places and had fruit I was giving them and some water to gallotias, but, of course, I wasn’t able to feed all of them who suffered the fire.

For photographing G. caesaris gomerae I recommend to bring a lens with focal length of 150-300 mm. This can be a macro or a telephoto lens. If it would be a 150-180mm macro lens, you would need to use it with a teleconverter now and then. For telephoto lenses you may occasionally need macro extension rings — to make the work distance shorter. I also recommend to have a tripod and a lot of patience — to be able to sit and wait till the lizards appear from their sleeping places in stone heaps.

Boettger’s Lizards can be found absolutely everywhere on the island where there are places for them to bask. In the central areas that are covered by forest, they live at road sides, near stone heaps, or at rocks. I was photographing them in such locations and in the shrubs that grow near Playa del Inglés at the foot of Risco de La Mérica — the distribution area of Gallotia bravoana.

In the summer the sunshine is very bright. Since G. caesaris have dark colouring, and the males are almost black, they need to be photographed only in the early morning hours when the shadows aren’t too deep. The best approach is to notice where a colony of G. caesaris lives and to come the next morning to this place before the lizards appear, to set up the camera on a tripod and to wait. In later hours a flash may help to lighten up the shadows.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 4: Gallotia galloti

The Western Canaries Lizards (Gallotia galloti galloti) on mountain Guaza are extremely shy — particularly the adults. Although I was noticing them moving in the dry vegetation, I could rarely see the animals themselves. It appeared to me that the population density in this place was not that great than of G. g. eisentrauti that I observed in the north of the island. Young G. g. galloti have different pattern than young G. g. eisentrauti. To me it appeared similar to the pattern of young Gallotia intermedia that I had seen on photographs. Therefore I thought first that I was seeing G. intermedia. When I saw the adult gallotias which were definitely G. g. galloti, I recognised my mistake.


According to my observations, the lizards were feeding mainly on fruits of Opuntia in this extremely dry season. Here you see a juvenile G. g. galloti doing it.

There are three subspecies of Gallotia galloti on Tenerife. Two — G. g. galloti andG. g. eisentrauti — live on the main island where they are very common. The distribution area of the first covers the south and the far west of Tenerife, while the second lives in the north and the east. The mountains in the middle of the island appear to serve as a barrier between them. The western border is very easy to recognise because the transition from galloti to eisentrauti is very sharp: When you are coming by car from Buenavista del Norte towards Punto de Teno after you passed the tunnel you’ll find only lizards of the nominate subspecies. At Buenavista and all the way to the tunnel there are still lizards of the subspecies eisentrauti. The eastern border between subspecies should be caused by Anaga mountains. I personally didn’t observe the point where it happens.

A population of the third subspecies — G. g. insulanagae — exist only on a small rock near the coast of the Anaga Peninsula at the eastern end of Tenerife — Roque Fuera de Anaga. I have seen only one image of a male of this subspecies. Therefore I am eager to photograph these lizards myself. Unfortunately it is difficult to organise. The place is very easy to find. You have to come by car to the village Garachico and then to hike to the lighthouse. After you reached the lighthouse you’ll see a triangle rock standing in water less than a kilometer away from the coast. That’s the Roque Fuera de Anaga.

A real problem is to reach the rock. Although it is a protected area, no special permission is required to visit it as far as I know — but you need a boat. I hadn’t any and didn’t even try to organise one because local people in this area speak only Spanish, and with my poor command of this language I wasn’t able to find a fisherman and to negotiate with him. When I went to this place, I didn’t know that the rock is so close, I was only planning to photograph the landscapes of the Anaga Mountains. Now I know that Roque de Fuera is very close to the coast of Tenerife and can be reached by a normal fisherman boat — worth an attempt if would visit this place again.


Baiting with small banana pieces works well with all adult gallotias.

To me Gallotia galloti is the most beautiful species of this gender and eisentrautiis the most beautiful subspecies of it. Males are large and particularly colourful. Also females of G. g. eisentrauti have more clear body pattern and more bright colour than of G. g. galloti. Many males of the nominate subspecies have larger blue areas on their sides but the striped pattern isn’t so well recognisable. Adults of both subspecies feed on plants and like sweet fruits, such as banana, peach, strawberries, that can be used as bait, to attract them to a place where you can better photograph them. Of course, even then they remain shy and can be easily scared by sudden movement. However, even when they have run away they return very soon to the fruits.

With much more shy G. g. galloti a more crude method is effective — capturing. Gallotias are very quick and see very well. In the hot season, when I was there, adult G. g. galloti weren’t allowing to approach them closer than 6-8 meters. G. g. eisentrauti appeared to me generally less shy. In towns, for instance in Puerto de la Cruz, the lizards were allowing a distance of just 2 meters or even less because they were accustomed to the presence of people who often even fed them. Nonetheless, in most populations that I visited the only way to a macro or a close-up shot of a Gallotia galloti was to catch it. Since the lizards escape in thick thorny vegetation or in rocks before you approach them, you can’t do it with hands. I was using a fishing rod with a snare. It worked fine on adult animals.

When gallotias are active their bodies are very warm. Anyway they felt warmer than for instance of sand lizards I often had a chance to hold in hands. The body even of a large adult lizard feels soft — probably due to small scales that cover it. When caught, first it attempts to bite but very quickly stops any resistance and remains motionless as long as your hand is closed. As soon as you loosen the grip just a little the lizard will immediately attempt to escape, and usually will succeed. So you have to be very careful and quick when photographing. It is not like with many other lacertids that would usually stay in place for awhile after you have removed the hand: A gallotia will disappear even before you have noticed it. Therefore, when you are handling a gallotia be prepared for only one shot that you will need to release in a fraction of a second. If you have a quick reaction and if there are no escapes in immediate proximity, you may be able to catch the lizard again with a free hand and return it in position in front of the lens. Even then sooner or later it will run away.

When caught and put in position for a close-up photograph G. galloti look depressed for the first second when you are photographing them. However, it doesn’t make sense to wait longer: As soon as the animal takes a more natural pose, it escapes. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to obtain a decent wide-angle or macro image of G. galloti. I am not really satisfied with those that I managed to get during this trip and will repeat the attempts as soon as I have another opportunity.


Adult gallotias are strictly territorial — both, males and femals. Neigbours who attempt to trespass will be fought and chased by the owner of the territory. During such quarrels the animals usually are squeking loudly. Along with strictly vegetarian diet of adult animals, the ability to vocalisations is probably the most amazing in this lacertid gender.

The easiest approach, although not always resulting in artistic images, is shooting with a telephoto lens. At some locations I was using a 150mm macro lens — sometimes with a 2x teleconverter — with quite good results. It proved to be particularly useful for photographs of younger animals of both subspecies and of adult G. g. eisentrauti. For adult G. g. galloti I needed a 300 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lens. Quite often, I had to shoot through vegetation; then the large aperture of this lens was particularly helpful. However, carrying both lenses along with other equipment is difficult and doesn’t make much sense. A 2.8/150mm or 2.8/180 mm macro lens in combination with a teleconverter lens is more lightweight and more flexible alternative that I would recommend in this case.


View from Acantilados de Los Gigantes at Teno Cape — habitat of Gallotia galloti galloti. The neighbour island, La Gomera is visible at the horizon.

The best locations for photographing Western Canaries Lizards in natural habitat I have been to during this trip were Teno Cape (Punto de Teno) and Guaza Mountain (Montaña de Guaza) — for G. g. galloti, and Anaga Peninsula — for G. g. eisentrauti. Of course, the lizards are very numerous and easier to approach in towns and villages, and thus are easier to photograph, but the urban surroundings may be visible in your pictures, particularly if you’ll be using wide-angle lenses.

To be continued in Part 5: Gallotia caesaris gomerae.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 3: Gallotia intermedia

The Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia) is the fourth largest extant species in this genus. It was also discovered quite recently — in late 90-s. The terra typica is the rocks Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) at the south-western coast of Tenerife. With estimated number of 1500-2000, the total population of G. intermedia is much more numerous than of G. bravoana. This species is currently known from two localities — the coastal rocks between Punto de Teno and the town of Los Gigantes, and from the Montaña de Guaza (Guaza Mountain) at the eastern end of Los Cristianos. Since the distribution area of Tenerife Speckled Lizard is quite extended, this species doesn’t appear to be in acute danger although it may suffer from predation by stray cats.

The ecology of G. intermedia appears to be similar to that of G. bravoana: It inhabits dry rocky places with scarse vegetation, at the southern or south-western coast. Unlike G. bravoana that has been found so far only on a very steep slope of a rock, G. intermedia also occurs in a more plain areas — on the Guaza Mountain and at nearby locations.

Image
View at Acantilados de Los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) — the terra typica of Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia).

I searched for my photography subjects in both populations but again had bad luck. In the western population I tried to find the lizards at two sites — near the town of Los Gigantes and at Punto de Teno. Both locations are in the same chain of Los Gigantes rocks, but at the both ends of it. There are no doubts that I was searching in the right places, but like with the Gomera Giant Lizards, I suppose that all living beings were hiding from the heat during this extremely hot summer. Anyway I didn’t see adult lizards of any species at all. A couple of young that I finally found and photographed in Baranco Seca — a gorge of a dried river — and that I initially thought were juvenile G. intermedia later turned out to be G. galloti.

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I found this memorial plate dedicated to the discovery of Gallotia intermedia on a rock at the beginning of the paths along the Los Gigantes cliffs.

The habitat of Tenerife Speckled Lizards at Los Gigantes is very easy to find: It is on the huge cliffs — Acantilados de Los Gigantes — that you see from any point in the town. All I needed to get there was to find a street leading to the cliffs. It was Calle Tabaiba that ends with a small parking lot. A path along the cliffs starts right at it. The entrance to the path was closed with a portable fence, a warning sign was informing that the path shouldn’t be used. I supposed that this warning was intended for the inhabitants of the villas nearby — people from Germany and other countries who own holiday apartments there and may want to go to the cliffs for a walk. Indeed, I saw people searching for a way to the cliffs, and also a woman who lived in a villa told that the official recreation path was higher — near the top of the rocks.

I took that lower that was closed. First it was quite broad, and walking was absolutely no problem. At about 200m from its beginning I saw a bronze plate on a rock telling that “Lagarto Canario Moteado” — i.e. Gallotia intermedia — had been first discovered in this place. This was a sign for me that I had determined the location correctly.

This slope was still in shadow, and I didn’t hurry. A couple of times I sat down not only to rest but also to wait for the sun. Finally the sun appeared, and its light was quickly getting brighter and hotter. Against my expectation no lizards were appearing: the slope was looking lifeless. Very soon it got very hot. I continued walking and looking for any lizards. Sometimes I left the path and searched in a wider area on both sides: No lizards were around.

Till noon, when the sunshine got really strong and the entire slope was standing in it, I went only a few kilometers in one direction, and there was no sense to go further. The slopes were extremely dry. There was no water and almost no green plants. When I reach a dried river bed I saw a few young gallotias. Since there were no adult individuals of G. galloti around, I thought that they were juvenile G. intermedia, particularly because they were looking not like the juveniles of G.g. eisentrauti that I had seen on the northern coast. I photographed one of those young lizards and went back to the parking lot. On the way the accident happened that I described in the grey box above.

The second known population of the Tenerife Speckled Lizard is in the area around Guaza Mountain (Montaña de Guaza). It is in immediate proximity of Los Cristianos — one of the most popular beach holiday destinations in Tenerife. Los Cristianos itself is probably the least attractive town on the island. It consists almost entirely of giant hotels and international tourist ressorts, and is a typical sun-and-fun holiday place. Therefore, I didn’t want to stay long there and reserved only a couple of days at the end of the trip for a search for G. intermedia.

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A many kilometers long path going along Acantilados de Los Gigantes — to and through the habitat of G. intermedia. Such paths are the only ways there from Los Gigantes town.

The Guaza Mountain itself and the land around it is officially protected as a nature reserve – Paraje Natural Montaña de Guaza. Nevertheless, the access to it is neither restricted nor regulated. Everyone can just drive closer to it, leave the car somewhere and walk to the mountain.

It is less than 400 m high, looks more like a hill, and is very easy to climb. The slopes aren’t steep. It surprised me that the habitat on Guaza Mountain was very different from what I had seen at Los Gigantes. However, just like there, the Tenerife Speckled Lizard was also here sympatric with the Western Canaries Lizard (Gallotia g. galloti). The latter were very common but hard even to see because they were very shy. Of G. intermedia I have seen no signs at all.

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A view at Montaña de Guaza (Guaza Mountain) from the balcony of my apartment in Los Cristianos. The second known population of Tenerife Speckled Lizard (Gallotia intermedia) that lives on this mountain was the reason for me to chose this hotel.

The weather was again very hot, and there were almost no green plants around except prickly pears (Opuntia). I am sure that heat was the reason why almost no living beings were active.

There is a hill adjacent to Guaza Mountain whose western slope ends in the ocean. According to the information that I had gathered, the Tenerife Speckled Lizards are found closer to the coast, i.e. on this hill which can be regarded as belonging to Guaza Mountain in a broad sense. The next day I searched on this hill too but found it empty: There weren’t even G. galloti around.

Since Monataña de Guaza is so close to the south airport of Tenerife “Aeropuerto Reina Sofia” where many flights from Europe land and since the harbor of Los Cristianos is connected by ferries with other islands, I am certainly planning to repeat the search in this place during my future travels to Canary Islands.

To be continued in Part 4: Gallotia galloti.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 2: Gallotia bravoana

The access to the area with the remaining population of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana) was relatively unrestricted although this species is listed as critically endangered. This place — Risco de la Mérica (La Mérica Rock) — is right behind Playa del Inglés — a popular beach of Valle Gran Rey. It has a very distinctive pyramidal shape and therefore is easy to find. It is also on any map of La Gomera with a scale of 1:40 000 or less, along with the breeding station of the conservation project “Centro de Recuperacion del Lagarto Gigante de la Gomera” (or “Lagartario”) which is right in front of the rock. The entire area north of Playa del Inglés is officially protected as a nature reserve. The access to it is open to everyone who obeys the usual rules for such conservation areas — “Do not litter”, “Do not disturb wildlife”, “Do not make fire”, etc. — which are also stated on an information board placed at the beach.

Risco de la Mérica - terra typica and the entire distribution area of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). The information board is telling about a conservation project supported by the EU. One of the aims of this project was building a fence in front of the habitat of the lizards. This fence collapsed after the project was finished, and the protection area was looking abandoned when I visited it.
Risco de la Mérica – terra typica and the entire distribution area of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). The information board is telling about a conservation project supported by the EU. One of the aims of this project was building a fence in front of the habitat of the lizards. This fence collapsed after the project was finished, and the protection area was looking abandoned when I visited it.

I stayed in a hotel nearby for 5 days and could reach the rock within a few minutes. I made 3 excursions to it attempting to find the lizards. The wall where the lizards live is looking west. In the morning this slope is cold because it is completely within a shadow of the rock. The sun starts coming out to this side of the rock at 10 a.m., and in this season at noon it is already burning with full power. There was no sense to come earlier than 10:00 a.m. or later than 11:00 a.m., i.e. there was only 1 hour for work — when, according to my estimation, the lizards might be basking and not hiding.

View at La Mérica rock (Risco de La Mérica) through a window of my hotel room — the terra typica of Gallotia bravoana and the stronghold of the last population of this species.
View at La Mérica rock (Risco de La Mérica) through a window of my hotel room — the terra typica of Gallotia bravoana and the stronghold of the last population of this species.

The rock is in reality larger than it appears when you are looking at it from the town. The base of it is completely covered by debris that you have to pass to reach the the stony wall and to start climbing to the levels where the lizards live. It is very difficult to walk on this field of smaller and larger stones, and I needed about an hour to cross it.

The wall is steep but not really vertical, i.e. anyone in good physical shape should be able to climb at least the lower half of it even without special equipment. The upper half is steeper but also not vertical. Most of it is free of vegetation. Some green plants persist only on ledges that are very easy to recognise even when you are standing at the bottom of the rock. Since adult gallotias of this species are strictly vegetarian these ledges can be the only places on the rock where they come to feed. Therefore it appeared logical to search there.

I reached the lowest of them carrying the backpack with photo equipment. Without this heavy load I could climb even higher. To be able to do get also the equipment on the rock one would need a ropes, nails and hooks. It should be also wise to wear body and head protection (helmet). I had nothing of that stuff. Therefore I stopped climbing when I arrived at the second such ledge and recognised that the slope was getting steeper. Leaving the backpack and climbing without it didn’t make much sense because I came to photograph the lizards. To continue without ropes and protection also appeared too dangerous. Therefore I searched the places with green that I had access to. After that I sat down on the highest ledge that I managed to reach and started waiting for the sun to shine at this place. It was 10:30 a.m., but the entire western side of the rock was in a deep shadow. One hour had to pass till the sunshine reached the place where I was sitting. It was quickly getting hot. I started searching again because it looked like the only time when the lizards, if there were any, should come out for feeding.

View from the habitat of G. bravoana at Punta de la Calera, Playa del Inglés and “Lagartario” - the breeding station. This photo was taken at 10:25 a.m. As you see, this side of the rock was still entirely in a deep shadow.
View from the habitat of G. bravoana at Punta de la Calera, Playa del Inglés and “Lagartario” – the breeding station. This photo was taken at 10:25 a.m. As you see, this side of the rock was still entirely in a deep shadow.

I searched very carefully all places with green vegetation that I could reach and was also using a binocular to look at the places that were higher. Unfortunately, I discovered neither lizards nor any other animals. The area appeared almost lifeless. Near noon the entire western side of Risco de la Mérica stood in bride sunshine and the stones rapidly got extremely hot. I could not believe that any lizards would stay on surface in these hours. It was also the time when lizards of the common species — G. caesaris — were disappearing, too. Even if G. bravoana don’t hibernate in this season, their daily period of activity should be limited to a couple of hours. Since such large lizards need much food and since the green plants are rare in their habitat, it appears to me unlikely that one or two hours would be enough time for finding and eating them. A lizard also needs some time for basking because its body has to reach certain temperature before the animal can feed.

Breeding station of a conservation and reintroduction project for Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). Just behind it - the habitat of the only existing population of this species.
Breeding station of a conservation and reintroduction project for Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). Just behind it – the habitat of the only existing population of this species.

I have no doubts that I was searching in the right place. The ropes that were hanging on the rock and that the researchers were using as climbing aid were another confirmation of this. Since I didn’t find even young individuals of this species who probably eat insects, I suppose that the lizards weren’t active at all in this hottest period of the year. Since the entire wild population of this species is estimated as 150-200 individuals and since this south-western wall of Risco de la Mérica is the entire distribution area of it, I can’t believe that the lizards were there and active but I’ve just overseen them. Therefore I have two recommendations for someone willing to find the giant lizards on La Gomera and for me if I should decide to go there again. First, the season should be colder — either spring or autumn, or even winter. Second, the search should be tried higher on the rock. Of course, it should make sense to contact an expert — a staff of the breeding station, or someone who conducted a research of this species.

To be continued in Part 3: Gallotia intermedia.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 1: Tenerife and La Gomera, 2012

The wildlife of the Canary Islands is scarce. No endemic mammals live there except bats. The largest mammals are introduced rabbits and domestic goats who now live free in the mountains. There are some interesting endemic species of birds, including the famous Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria), the ancestor of the domestic Canary bird, which is very common. More exotic looking birds, such as parrots, either escaped from captivity or came from nearby Africa, and live also free on these islands. The proximity of Africa also explains the relative richness of the invertebrate fauna of the Canaries.

The focus of my interest and photography efforts was this time on Canarian herpetofauna which is pretty unique. All native species of reptiles are endemics of the islands. Amphibians were originally absent there, but now populations Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis) exist on all 7 islands of the archipelago. This species is widely spread on the European continent and was introduced to the Canaries in the recent history. Native species of snakes and turtles are also absent. Unfortunately an allian species of snake is found on Gran Canaria — Californian King Snake (Lampropeltis getula) — that now threatens the endemic fauna, particularly the lizards.

Certainly, lizards are the most exciting and unique group of vertebrates on the Canary Islands. Around 16 species of them are currently recognised there, and all are endemics. Most species, or subspecies, are endemic to a particular island, but, unfortunately, some of them were brought from there to the neighbour island in the recent past — most probably as “passengers” on ferries.

Western Canaries Lizard

I concentrated my activities on true lizards of the endemic genus Gallotia. Only 7 species of them are currently recognised which can be found only on the Canary Islands. I decided to make a small project consisting of three or four trips with a goal to photograph, if not all, then at least most of them in the wild. Chances for that are quite good, except two species — La Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana) and El Hierro Giant Lizard (G. simonyi) — that are bred in captivity at special farms, and are difficult to access in the wild.

Interestingly, populations of all three rarest species of Gallotia that are regarded as closer relatives — G. simonyi, G. bravoana, G. intermedia — are remaining only on the western and southern coast of the island each of these species is native to — El Hierro, La Gomera, Tenerife. I haven’t yet seen any scientific theory explaining why it is so. Did these species ever live on other sides of those islands? If so, why did they remain only in the south-west? Certainly, there should be an ecological reason. If it would be found, it may also explain why the attempts to artificially establish their new populations in other places were failing. Obviously, the habitats of all these species are very similar: steep, almost wall-like slopes of high rocks, facing the ocean, with scarce vegetation. The ecological specialisation should have been an obstacle for their wide distribution on the islands, unlike the other two species of Gallotia that are very common throughout Tenerife — G. galloti — and La Gomera, and El Hierro — G. caesaris. These and other two species — G. stehlini and G. atlantica — are ecologically much more flexible, and therefore evolutionary more successful.

When I was planning the destinations of this trip, the main reason why I chose Tenerife and La Gomera was the existence of 2 species of Gallotia on each of them, with 2 distinctive subspecies of one of them — G. galloti — on Tenerife. I thought that with some luck I would photograph 5 taxons of these lizards in one trip. Unfortunately, that were only 3 at the end.

I suspect three reasons why I failed to find both most interesting species — the “giant lizards” of La Gomera and of Tenerife. The first and most important reason was the season: It had been an extremely hot and dry summer; very few green plants were remaining. Even in less hot places than rocks I was seeing not so many individuals even of common species. I suppose therefore that the majority of lizards were hiding continuously from the sun or even hibernating. The second reason was the difficulty of the terrain that I underestimated in my planning. When I was seeing those habitats on photographs, of course, I was understanding that G. bravoana and G. intermedia live in a rocky area, but I didn’t recognise that to photograph them one would need to literally climb walls. If I knew that I would need it, I would have prepared myself for this. The third reason was my limited knowledge of the places where to search for these lizards. Ideally, there should be a local guide or a consultant. I didn’t know myself such an expert and had no time to find one because the decision to go to these region was made quite spontaneously. Therefore, there was nobody during this trip who could help me with exact knowledge of localities where the lizards can be found.

To be continued in Part 2: Gallotia bravoana.

Some more herping lenses

Here is again a small addition to my last year’s list of close focusing wide-angle lenses that can be used for close-up wide-angle shots of amphibians and reptiles.

Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II

I own such a lens myself and have used it for close-up shots of herps and other animals many times since I have purchased it 2 years ago. As all tilt-shift lenses, it has a mount for full-frame cameras. Of course, it can be used with an APS-C camera but in case of close-up photography it makes little sense because the already not very wide viewangle would be narrowed and thus the effect of wide-angle would be decreased. The TS-E 24mm f/3.5L make II focuses at 20 cm which is pretty close regarding this lens’s quite large physical size: At this distance the subject has to be in less than 10 cm from the front element.

Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II

With version II Canon has greatly improved this lens. One of improvements was shorter focusing distance: This lens now focuses at only 20 cm. Considering the short focal length of 14 mm and resulting extremely wide angle with full-frame sensors, small subjects may appear too small. When used for shooting amphibians, reptiles, insects and other small subjects, this lens may deliver better results with cropped sensors. I have seen some images of snakes and large lizards made with EF 14 mm f/2.8L II and found them great.

Carl Zeiss Touit 2.8/12

I discovered this lens quite recently, and it is no surprise because it is a very new product. Carl Zeiss is offering two models of this lens – E and X – for Sony NEX and Fujifilm X mounts. Obviously, both are cameras with reduced sensor size, therefore this lens won’t perform like 12 mm. Since it focuses at a minimal distance of 18 cm, the frame produced with a Sony or Fujifilm camera should look similar to one made with the above mentioned 14 mm lens on a cropped Canon. Zeiss lenses are amazing, and I am a big fan of them. Therefore, if I had a Fujifilm X camera, this lens would be my first choice.

Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f3.5 Fisheye

This lens has a four-thirds standard mount and can be uses not only with Olympus but also with Panasonic and Samsung cameras. Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 8mm f3.5 Fisheye lens should be a must for a nature photographer who uses a 4/3 camera and wants to makes wide-angle shots of insects, herps and other small subjects. Although it produces images as if it were a 16mm lens, it has an amazing close focusing distance – only 2 cm from the front element.

I have tried not all these lenses myself. So please share your experience in comments. Also please let me know if you come across example images of animals made with these lenses.

Once again about myth and reality of conservation

Two weeks ago I was very happy at last having found a location with a small population of common adders (Vipera berus) on Haberstein mountain in Fichtelgebirge (Bavaria). That day I made these images of an adult male:

Male Common Adder (Vipera berus), Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria, Germany

Male Common Adder (Vipera berus), Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria, Germany

Male Common Adder (Vipera berus), Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria, Germany

Male Common Adder (Vipera berus), Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria, Germany

Male Common Adder (Vipera berus), Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria, Germany

Male Common Adder (Vipera berus), Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria, Germany

Information board about Haberstein nature protection area.

Information about Haberstein nature protection area. (Click on picture to enlarge.)

This is a very well known location to Bavarian herpetologists and even to public – which is informed about the presence of this species by a large board set at the entry of a path leading to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, herpetologists increasingly have that in my opinion absolutely senseless and counterproductive practice – to keep secret the exact information about places with populations of amphibians and reptiles. This attitude is selfish and naive. It can’t prevent an experienced herper from finding the place but only makes this task for him harder and more expensive. Encountering an animal at any moment you visit the place is never guaranteed even if it is absolutely certain that it lives there. Therefore, unless you know it in advance from other sources, if you don’t see any animals you are searching for, you can’t be sure that you are searching in the right place. Although I knew that adders live on Haberstein, I needed as many as seven excursions in autumn and spring of 2011 to 2013, to determine the more or less exact location. The area I had to search trough was not very large: Haberstein is a small mountain where adders live on the slope with south-western exposure. Nevertheless, every time the search was exhausting and time consuming. It would have been much easier and even I could save a lot of money if the exact locations where the adders hibernate and breed were documented and even marked with signs. Instead the exact coordinates of spottings of adders in Germany that are registered in publicly accessible databases aren’t disclosed because the maintainers of those sites believe that the snakes were threatened through capturing and removal from nature. I have never seen any undisputed evidence that a population of a European amphibian or reptile species got extinct or was critically threatened due to pressure by herpers, but no one would seriously doubt today that economic and recreational activities of people have catastrophic impact on habitats and populations everywhere. In the face of this other reality, the rules that the tiny protection areas such as Haberstein place for individuals look silly: “Stay on assigned ways!”, “Do not gather plants!”, “Do not leave wastes!”… On just one day a single tractor may do more harm to the ecosystem than in a year a hundred of people if they would “leave the assigned ways”, or “gather plants”. Current legislation and mechanisms of its enforcement are more effective against individuals than against businesses, organisations of the state itself. While an individual has to respect the rules and laws prohibiting harm for flora and fauna, it is made easy for companies and governmental bodies to overcome the restrictions. Someone who captures a single animal risks to be prosecuted while a company may be allowed to wipe the whole population if it pays a compensation – of course, to the state, not to the species whose habitat was destroyed.

Last Thursday, I returned to this place hoping to find more adders. Instead I saw a hunter building a new hide – only some 15 or 20 meters from an already existing. He had cut spruce trees and left an area of devastation just at the place where the adders should be basking and searching for mating partners.

Common adder location in Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria after a hunter has cut trees to use the wood for construction of his tower hide.

Common adder location in Fichtel Mountains, Bavaria after a hunter has cut trees to use the wood for construction of his tower hide.

It is commonly known that clearings are favourable for adder populations if they persist for a long period of time. In that sense, what this man had done may be good for adders at long perspective. However, I am afraid that the immediate effect on the population that already lives there is negative and much more significant than the long-term advantage.

The Common Adder (Vipera berus) has “special protection” status according to Federal Law on Nature Protection (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz), and is listed as “highly endangered” in Germany (Category 2 in German Red List), and in Bavaria – even as threatened with extinction. The reality of how the populations of this snake and its habitats are being treated is too often completely opposite to this proclaimed status.

My experience during the excursions to Haberstein has raised the question again: Isn’t it better for survival of amphibians and reptiles if herpetologists and herpers would make the exact locations of populations that they have discovered known to public. In my opinion making the places that are critical for ecology of a protected species – such as basking, laying eggs, mating, wintering – clearly recognisable can prevent their occasional destruction in course of economic and recreational activities of humans.

Two years ago I found this dead little common adder on a road - apparently killed by a bicycle.

Two years ago I found this dead little common adder on a road – apparently killed by a bicycle.

Froglets

Froglets

These weeks pool frogs in Germany are finishing metamorphosis, and froglets are leaving the water.

Photographing froglets of Pool Frog

Pool Frog froglet

Pool Frog froglet

Pool frog froglets

Tadpoles are beautiful

This is not because I have processed the photo in a special way.  The vibrance of the colour depends very much on light that falls on the subject. I photographed this tadpole using flash, and the colour is original. Well, of course, I added saturation in postprocessing – maybe even a little too much, compared to other my shots of tadpoles. Anyway, I was surprised how beautiful tadpoles actually are. We, people, don’t notice it when we are looking at these little creatures in muddy water.

Image

Source: Nature Images by Arthur Tiutenko: Pelophylax lessonae / Pool Frog