10 Species of Herps to Look Out For in Transylvania
Often overlooked, herps (which comprise of reptiles and amphibians) are an integral part of Transylvania’s healthy ecosystem. Frogs, in particular, are a great indicator of a healthy ecosystem, as they are very sensitive to the availability of clean sources of water for breeding and hunting. Lizards and snakes also play an important role in controlling pests, such as insects and small mammals, that could feed on crops.
These small animals are often overshadowed by their larger, fluffier mammal counterparts, but they are equally critical to the balance of the ecosystem. Take your time while walking in the forest and near streams and you will likely spot several of these species, some of which are very colorful and photogenic! That being said, Romania does have three species of venomous snakes, so do not handle anything unless a naturalist indicates it is safe.
Here are ten species of herps to look out for on your next trip to Transylvania.
Yellow-bellied toads (Bombina variegata) are very common throughout Transylvanian forests and especially love to breed in puddles created by large tractors in the early spring. The eggs and tadpoles can even survive the tractors driving over them several times before they emerge in the spring in such numbers it can be hard to drive.
Yellow-bellied toads range across Europe, from France to the Carpathian Mountains. While they are a species of least concern, their population in Europe is declining due to disease and human impacts. They are very distinctive with a bright yellow belly. They are safe to hold but make sure you wash your hands after as their mucus can cause skin irritations.
2. European Fire-Bellied Toad
The European fire-bellied toad (Bombina bombina) is very similar to the yellow-bellied toad (B. variegata). They share habitats and are often found within the same pond or puddle. These toads are common throughout Eastern Europe and are the largest of the Bombina family.
It is simple to differentiate these toads from yellow-bellied toads by the color of their belly. The fire-bellied toad displays a bright orange and black mottled belly, which it uses as a warning sign for predators to indicate poison.
3. European Tree Frog
The European tree frog (Hyla arborea) is the only representative of the tree frog family that is indigenous to Europe. Widespread throughout Europe and the Caucasus, this frog is thought to have many subspecies across the region. It is mostly found in humid forests and gardens, although usually not in dense forests.
In Transylvania, this species is quite widespread but it is much trickier to spot than the Bombina toads, as they tend to remain hidden in the trees. Their skin color can range from green to gray or tan, depending on the climate, temperature, or their mood. They also have a black stripe running horizontally across each eye. Historically, these frogs were used as barometers as they croak to warn of approaching rain.
4. European Green Lizard
The European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) is a large and common lizard found throughout Eastern Europe. They are widespread in Transylvania and every village home welcomes these visitors in their gardens to eat insects and pests.
European green lizards can reach up to 40cm (including tail) when they are fully grown and are bright green. Adult males have a light blue patch at the throat, which females may also display occasionally.
5. Slow worm
Slow worms (Anguis fragilis) are legless lizards that tend to live hidden away under objects. They are very smooth as their scales do not overlap.
Slow worms are native to Eurasia and have a stable population in Transylvania. They can often be found in humid places in the forest. Male slow worms have beautiful bright blue spots on their back while females have a black stripe. These lizards may be the longest living species of lizard on Earth, surviving up to 54 years in captivity!
6. Agile frog
Agile frogs (Rana dalmatina) can be found throughout the forests and meadows of Transylvania in the summer. They are a small, light brown frog that can turn dark brown during the mating season. Their population in Romania is stable.
7. Smooth snake
The smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is a non-venomous snake (Colubrid) found throughout Northern Europe and as far East as Iran. It can be found almost everywhere in Transylvania, and particularly likes people’s yards, steep walls of sand, meadows, lakes, and forest habitats.
It is usually brown, grey, or reddish-brown with two rows of indistinct dark spots running down its back. It mostly eats other reptiles after subduing them with constriction.
8. Grass snake
Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) live throughout Europe and Central Asia and have many subspecies, though most are dark brown or green with a characteristic yellow stripe at the base of the head. Individuals that live in colder areas may be black. They rarely bite, but rather excrete a garlic smell when caught and may flatten their head to imitate a cobra hen threatened.
9. Grass frog
The grass frog (Rana temporaria), otherwise known as the common frog, is a Eurasian frog species found across Europe and Russia. They are often confused for the common toad (Bufo bufo) but can be differentiated through their moist skin and longer legs.
They are very common and can be spotted throughout the summer in Transylvanian forests. They can range in color from olive green to rufous, depending on the season and geography. These frogs are even found North of the Arctic Circle and can live under ice for up to nine months!
10. Marsh Frog
The Marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) is the largest frog species in Europe. They are usually found in water and can be recognized through their green color. Marsh frogs are closely related to the Pool frog and Edible frog and are known to intermix.
Marsh frogs mostly feed on insects like dragonflies but have been known to even eat small rodents. They are relatively common in Transylvania and have a stable population.
In total, Romania has around 42 confirmed species of herps, a diverse population for Europe. So next time you are out on a walk in Transylvania, keep an eye out for these beautiful animals!
Looking for the best places to get started spotting wildlife in Romania? Check out our tours in Transylvania at the Angofa Wildlife Centre!