The amphibians of Alhambra – a photo essay

The Alhambra, which sits on a hill in Granada, Andalucia, is the only preserved palatine city of the Islamic period and a Unesco world heritage site. Once the residence of the Nasrid sultans, it is one of the most visited national monuments in the world.

The Alhambra

The Moorish architecture from the 13th century is peppered with pools, fountains and waterways that ensure an abundance of water and lush vegetation and a rich diversity of wildlife, including a wide range of aquatic species, especially amphibians.

A building in the Alhambra

A centuries-old pottery bowl in the Alhambra Museum

  • The ribbed newt inspired the decoration on this pottery bowl (right) in the Alhambra Museum’s collection and proves their earlier presence in the 13th-century complex’s pools and waterways

There is evidence that the palace and the Generalife gardens have been home to numerous newts and frogs for hundreds of years.

Iberian green frog (Pelophylax perezi)

  • An Iberian green frog (Pelophylax perezi)

Five amphibian species inhabit the Alhambra: the spiny common toad (Bufo spinosus) and the Iberian green frog (Pelophylax perezi – also know as Perez’s frog) are the most common and are easily spotted. The Iberian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl), the Betic midwife toad (Alytes dickhilleni) and the Iberian painted frog (Discoglossus galganoi) are less widespread.

The viperine water snake

Viperine water snake catches its prey

The spiny common toad (Bufo spinosus)

  • Top left and right: The viperine water snake is not an amphibian, but lives in the pools of water where it hunts for fish and amphibian prey. Bottom: The spiny common toad (Bufo spinosus)

The Iberian ribbed newt was once abundant in the Alhambra and is again thriving after being reintroduced. Hundreds of larvae have been rescued from drying ponds in other areas not far from Granada and released into the pools.

A pool in the Alhambra

A scene in the Alhambra

Reintroduction of the Iberian ribbed newt using tadpoles recovered from a drying pond.

Ramps are placed to make it easier for amphibians to relocate and reproduce.

  • Monitoring and conservation activities include placing ramps to make it easier for the newts to relocate (bottom right) and the reintroduction of the Iberian ribbed newt using tadpoles (bottom left) recovered from a drying pond

The ribbed newt is perhaps the most notable of the Alhambra’s amphibian population, as it maintains its tail into adulthood, giving it a lizard-like appearance.

Researcher Juan Ramon Fernandez Cardenete holds an Iberian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl).

  • Researcher Juan Ramon Fernandez Cardenete holds an Iberian ribbed newt (Pleurodeles waltl)

After several releases, the newts now reproduce in their new home and have established a healthy population – though visitors may need to look closely to spot them.

The Iberian ribbed newt in its aquatic phase

  • The Iberian ribbed newt in its aquatic phase

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features


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