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“The Symbol” – Photographing the Ibiza Wall Lizard

As a biologist, I love surprises. And after the first week of our month-long photographic expedition to the Mediterranean islands of Ibiza and Formentera, it seems like there are biological surprises around every corner.

Dr. Nate Dappen gets low to capture a lizard close-up. Bledes Plano, Reserva Natural de Es Vedra, Ibiza.

Dr. Nate Dappen, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Miami, has spent the past three summers on Ibiza and Formentera studying the beautiful Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis), a colorful lizard species that can only be found here. This spring, Nate and I raised money through Kickstarter (check out our campaign here) to create a book about the lizards and the islands they inhabit. This trip would be my first visit to the islands, and after hearing Nate’s stories for the last three years, I couldn’t wait to experience them for myself.

The first surprise for me has been how spectacularly colorful the lizards are. I had seen Nate’s photos, but the lizards are even more spectacular in person (and much more colorful than the lizards I study!). On the large island of Formentera, Ibiza Wall Lizards come in every shade of blue, green, and brown, and among the smaller offshore islands, they are even more variable. Despite all this diversity, all of the island populations are currently considered members of a single species. Some researchers are skeptical of this classification, and DNA evidence will likely help us reach a more complete understanding of the Ibiza Wall Lizard’s diversity and evolutionary history.

Whether they belong to one species or several, however, Ibiza Wall Lizards make their home on islands that are bustling with tourists, and their intimate relationship with people has been another surprise. Ibiza and Formentera are among the best-known vacation destinations in the Mediterranean, but the lizards don’t avoid the crowds. On the contrary, they often live around human dwellings and frequent the most popular beaches, where they will skitter out on the sand to investigate beachgoers and search their beach bags for food!

Lizards on small islands generally have few natural predators. As a result, they are often very tame. This Ibiza Wall Lizard was so curious about us that it climbed right onto my camera! Isla des Porcs, Pityuses Archipelago.

We spent the first week of our expedition documenting the color diversity of lizards on Formentera and a few of the surrounding islands. We had some great adventures wading and swimming out to some small islands, and we made a short video about our first few days in Formentera, which you can watch above. You can also see a gallery of some of our favorite photos from the first week of our trip here.

Another welcome surprise, though not a biological one, has been the reception we’ve received from locals on the islands. The Ibiza Wall Lizard (or in the local Catalan language, sargantana) is so ubiquitous on Formentera that it has become the de facto symbol of the islands, and images of the lizards appear everywhere – in the logos of local businesses, on t-shirts and beach towels, and even in people’s jewelry and tattoos.  As a result, Nate has become a minor celebrity on the islands – he’s known as the “Sargantana Man” – and the local media have taken an interest in our project. We’ve already been filmed by two local television crews, and Nate has been interviewed by a local newspaper and radio station too. You can read more about the local response to our work on our blog here.

We have a busy few weeks ahead of us, but we’ll be posting plenty of video and photographic updates as we go. To stay up-to-date with all of our project updates, subscribe to our blog at Day’s Edge Productions, “Like” us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

National Geographic Young Explorer Dr. Neil Losin (UCLA) and his colleague Dr. Nate Dappen (University of Miami) are biologists, photographers, and filmmakers. You can see more of their work at Day’s Edge Productions.

Comments

  1. BaranCan
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    October 23, 2012, 1:31 am

    i was sitting here wriokng late in the eve, my thoughts wondered to my child hood and remembered Bob Jenny….in a scrap book in my closet from my elementary years is posted a little brochure about a reptile show at a church on Key Blvd back in the early 60’s..i went and remember seeing Bob and all his snakes. I was thinking i would like to see him again and did a quick search ,,,the first thing i read was “Bob Jenny died today” my heart sank….as you live life on the down hill side of the hill you tend to want to reach back for those uphill days.Thank you for your post. Back in the early O’s i saw Bob at a show at the fair..i was manning a booth for our church and couldnt get over to see him, the crowd he attracted made it more than a short endeavor and I missed out. but i got to stand there and just watch him in action,,,a passion he had!Talking about Forman Scotty, i over the last few years listend off and on to Danny Williams (Xavier T. Willard ) on Koma and though “i sure would like to meet him” yet i never did anything about it……got a text message the other day from my sis that he had taken his own life. when i thought of Bob just now i also thought, now follow through or he’ll be gone too.my heart sank when i saw your post…the elementary kid in me mourns both of those gentlemen right now!!Thanks for your words on Bob. You obviously valued him too.cd

  2. [...] found in the Pityusic Archipelago of the western Mediterranean. (See our previous updates here: Update 1, Update 2, Update 3.) You can see a gallery of some of our favorite images from the expedition [...]

  3. [...] found in the Pityusic Archipelago of the western Mediterranean. (See our previous updates here: Update 1, Update 2, Update 3.) You can see a gallery of some of our favorite images from the expedition [...]

  4. Chasing Ibiza wall lizards
    July 7, 2012, 1:26 pm

    [...] island of Formentera to team up with my friends Nathan Dappen and Neil Losin. They are on a month long expedition to create a book about the Ibiza wall lizard. In between photographing lizards, we will be working on another short film together.An Ibiza wall [...]

  5. [...] de site van National Geographic vonden wij een artikel wat we jullie niet willen [...]