“The Symbol” Part 2: Photographing Lizards in Paradise

The sea around Ibiza and Formentera is naturally filtered by the seagrass Posidonia oceanica, so the water is exceptionally clear.

We had an unexpected stroke of luck during the 3rd week of our expedition to photograph the Ibiza Wall Lizard (Podarcis pityusensis) on the Mediterranean islands of Ibiza and Formentera. We got a visit from our friend Joris van Alphen, a National Geographic Emerging Nature Photographer from The Netherlands. Joris is a fantastic photographer, both on land and in the water (check out his amazing underwater portfolio here).

Because Joris, Nate and I get a lot of questions about our photography – and because each of us approaches photography rather differently – we thought it would be fun to sit down in front of the camera for once, and talk about photography. Check out the video (above) to see what we had to say!

A black male Ibiza Wall Lizard rests on the rugged rocks of Bledes Plano, a small island near Ibiza.
One of the most intensely orange male Ibiza Wall Lizards we have observed so far. Cala Salada, Ibiza. It's hard to believe these two lizards belong to the same species!

Meanwhile, our lizard photography adventure continues! In addition to Ibiza and Formentera, the largest islands in the Pityusic archipelago, we have visited a couple dozen small islands that are uninhabited by humans, including several that are also off-limits to the general public (read about how we get to all these islands here). During the second week of our trip, we spent a few days visiting small islands around Ibiza (including some islands inhabited by completely black lizards!), and we created a photo gallery to document our visits. Though they are all the same species, the Ibiza Wall Lizards on each small island always seem to be different from other populations, and sometimes dramatically so!

We returned to Formentera to re-visit some of our favorite sites and photograph more lizard behavior. Ibiza Wall Lizards have some decidedly un-lizard-like habits; they feed on nectar from flowers, for example, and they also eat small fruits, like the berries of juniper trees. We’ve done our best to document these behaviors, and you can see some of our efforts in our most recent photo gallery from Formentera.

On these resource-poor islands, the lizards will also feed on their own kind… I finally observed my first case of attempted cannibalism today: an adult female ate a juvenile’s still-wiggling tail while the very lucky juvenile managed to escape into the brush! It’s not an easy behavior to see, but Nate has observed cannibalism on several occasions during his years conducting research in these islands. Last year in Formentera, Nate and Joris produced a great short film about these lizards’ dietary adaptations, which you can watch here.

A juvenile Ibiza Wall Lizard cranes its neck to reach the nutritious nectar inside a tubular flower.

We’re back in Ibiza now for the final days of our expedition, but on our last day in Formentera we traveled around the island to photograph popular representations of lizards (or sargantanas in the local Catalan language). We found stylized images of lizards on every conceivable product, from coffee mugs to t-shirts to cigarette lighters, firmly cementing the lizards in our minds as “The Symbol” of the islands. The lizards’ iconic status has also brought attention to our project in the local media – two TV interviews, a radio interview, and two newspaper articles (here and here). We’re optimistic that our book about the Ibiza Wall Lizard will receive the same warm reception we have during our photographic expedition here!

Human Journey


Neil Losin is a National Geographic Young Explorer. He is a biologist, photographer, and filmmaker pursuing his Ph.D. in UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where he studies the evolution of territoriality in lizards. When he isn’t doing his own research, Neil uses photography and video to help fellow scientists communicate about their work. He is the co-founder and Editor of SustainableFocus.org, a web community and magazine promoting visual communication about science and the environment. You can see his photography at www.neillosin.com, and check out his videos and blog at www.daysedgeproductitons.com.