When you think of spotting wildlife on the Tour du Mont Blanc, you might dream of seeing a marmot, an alpine ibex or a golden eagle, but our mountains our also home to some very interesting species of reptiles and amphibians. In early spring you might be overwhelmed by the croaking noises male frogs make during mating season while passing a small pond or lake, or you might get startled by a lizard scurrying away between the rocks on a sunny summer’s day. So, what are the species you might see along your trek?
On warm summer days it’s very common to see lizards basking in the sun on the path or on rocks, because like all reptiles, lizards use the warmth of the sun, to regulate their body temperature.
- Viviparous lizard – Lacerta vivipara
- Common wall lizard – Podarcis muralis
Although several species of snakes occur in our mountains, you’ll have to be quite lucky to see one of these reptiles. Not only because of their protective colours, but also because they like to hide in caves or between boulders and tree trunks. Only once I’ve been lucky enough to encounter an aspics viper in the forest near Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. When I spotted the animal lying on a rock, where it was warming itself up in the spring sunshine, I immediately stopped moving, but the snake quickly hurried away. Aspic vipers (Vipera aspis) occur up to an altitude of 3000 meters, where they mainly look for sunny southern slopes. There are also ring snakes (Natrix natrix) and smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca) in the French Alps. Both are harmless species, that is non-toxic or aggressive. A bite from an aspic viper, on the other hand, is toxic. A viper bite is not deadly for people, but it can be extremely painful, causing big swellings. If you have the (highly unlikely) misfortune to get bitten, please make sure you immediately find a doctor.
- Grass snake – Natrix Natrix
- Smooth snake – Coronella austriaca
- Aspic viper – Vipera aspis
A slow worm is a legless lizard which makes that this reptile is often confused for a snake.
- Slow worm – Anguis fragilis
Toads and frogs
When you hear the croaking of male frogs while passing a small pond, it’s worth looking into the water. You might see the noisy amphibians mating surrounded by large jelly clumps of frog spawn sticking together. The eggs of the brown frog (Rana temporaria) can occur up to an altitude of 3000 meters! The brown common toad (Bufo bufo) also reproduces in mountain lakes, but its eggs stick together in a cord.
- Common toad – Bufo bufo
- Common frog – Rana temporaria
Salamanders and newts
Unfortunately, it’s quite rare to see a salamander. These amphibians are mainly active at night, but after a rain storm they sometimes appear during the day time. Alpine newts (Triturus alpestris) are a bit easier to spot if you know where to look. These amphibians measure about 12 centimetres including the tail, they have a brightly orange coloured belly and live up to 2500 meters in extremely clean water. When you pass the Lacs des Chéserys on the Tour du Mont you might see a few swimming around. They are most likely young specimens, the so-called salamander larvae, that look a lot like their parents, but with thread-shaped external gills.
- Fire salamander – Salamandra salamandra
- Alpine salamander – Salamandra atra
- Alpine newt – Triturus alpestris
As you can see, there is a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians in the Alps. Keep your eyes peeled. Now you have several things to spot on your Tour du Mont Blanc!