The spectacular Pityusic Archipelago lies 50 miles east of Valencia in the Spanish Mediterranean. Most people know Ibiza, the largest island in the archipelago, for its spectacular beaches, crystal-clear waters, and world-famous nightlife. But as anyone who has visited Ibiza will tell you, the island’s official symbol is one you’d never expect – a lizard!
Ibiza’s reptilian icon is called the Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis), and it’s an imperiled species that is unique to the Pityusic Archipelago. Images of these lizards appear everywhere – displayed on shop windows, embroidered on hotel towels, and tattooed on the bodies of beachgoers!
Biologist Dr. Nate Dappen of the University of Miami has been studying these lizards for the last three years. What first drew him to these lizards was the dazzling variety of colors they display; on each tiny island in the archipelago (there are more than 40 in all), the lizards have different colors. They range from blue, to green, to orange, to black! As an evolutionary biologist, Dappen is fascinated by all of this diversity, which is virtually unmatched among reptiles.
Ibiza Wall Lizards are unique in other ways, too. Islands can be hard places to live, and animals have to take advantage of any food source they can. The lizards cope with the challenges of island life by drinking nectar and hunting insect pollinators. By traveling from flower to flower, they unwittingly become pollinators themselves! The lizards also eat fruit and travel significant distances before defecating the seeds, making them important seed dispersers for island plants. Most amazing of all, they turn on their own kind when food is scarce, making them frequent cannibals! For some stunning footage of Ibiza Wall Lizard behavior, check out the award-winning short film, which was produced by Dappen with Joris van Alphen, winner of the 2012 National Geographic Emerging Nature Photographer Award.
This summer, Dr. Dappen and I are planning an expedition to Ibiza, Formentera, and the surrounding islands, but this time, it’s not just for science. Despite the Ibiza Wall Lizard’s iconic status, most people don’t know much about it, and there’s really no good source of lizard information for tourists or locals. So we want to create a photo-illustrated, multilingual book to promote awareness and conservation action, ensuring that these lizards will remain the symbol of these islands for generations to come.
To make the book happen, we need your help. We’re raising funds for our expedition here – you can earn cool rewards by backing the project, like limited-edition photographs, signed copies of the finished book, and personal thank-you’s in the book or in our video dispatches from the field. Thank you in advance for your support! With your help, the next time you hear from us will be as we embark on our expedition to photograph these amazing lizards.
National Geographic Young Explorer Neil Losin (UCLA) and his colleague Nate Dappen (University of Miami) are biologists, photographers, and filmmakers. You can see more of their work at Day’s Edge Productions.