The Hungarian Natural History Museum (HNHM) and the Natural History Museum, Vienna (NHMW) jointly organised a zoological fieldtrip to Albania in June (2014) with the aim of exploring the rock-dwelling and cave-dwelling fauna of some potentially interesting locations and to collect material for the Montenegrina project.

Expedition members on the Thertorë Pass, Prokletije Mts, Northern Albania

Expedition members on the Thertorë Pass, Prokletije Mts, Northern Albania. Photo: Maros Grego.

This trip was participated by Zoltán Fehér (from the NHMW Alpine Landsnail Group), Dorka Angyal speleobiologist (Curator of the HNHM Myriapod Collection), Zoltán Erőss malacologist (HNHM Mollusc Collection), Jozef Grego malacologist and speleologist from Slovakia and his son Maros, who was responsible for the photo documentation of the expedition. As most of the planned collecting sites could be reached only on rugged backcountry roads, the 4WD Toyota Hilux of the HNHM was our indispensable companion.

The routeplan had to be modified at the last moment, and thus, we arrived at Albania from the north through Montenegro and not from Kosovo as we planned before. Passing through Montenegro let us find some nice Herilla and pitch upon the Hit Of The Fieldtrip: Euro Neuro by the popular Montenegrian singer, Rambo Amadeus.

In Albania we stopped for a while in the Thertorë Pass in the Prokletije Mts, then we went ahead to the Shent Mountain, which was the most important target of our expedition.

The primary aim of our expedition was to find the type locality of Montenegrina apfelbecki (Sturany, 1907) and to collect living specimens. This species was found for the first time in 1905 by Buljubasić and it was described by Rudolf Sturany, the curator of the NHMW in 1907. The collecting site was just vaguely defined: „in the Shent Mountain near Oroshi, approximately 1500 m asl.” Since then, not so many naturalists got into this region, and thus, no one has found later this species either in the Shent Mountain or anywhere else. The original series of M. apfelbecki is in the Mollusc Collection of the NHMW, but we needed live-collected material in order to perform DNA sequence analysis to reveal the phylogenetic relationship of this species by molecular methods.

The Strawberry Pothole in the Shent Mountain, Northern Albania

The Strawberry Pothole in the Shent Mt., Northern Albania. Photo: Jozef Grego.

We have spent two days in the plateau of the Shent Mountain, strolled through a relatively large area in the meantime and sampled numerous sites that seemed to be suitable for rock-dwelling gastropods. Speleologist colleagues have found and began to explore a vertical cave, which they tentatively called ’Strawberry Pothole’. They managed to collect some eutroglophile macroinvertebrates from the walls and wooden debris of the cave. Meanwhile we have collected numerous animals, among others endemic gastropod species, like Napaeopsis merditanus, Cochlostoma georgi and Liburnica dochii. But unfortunately, our efforts to find the Montenegrina ended in failure. Moreover, on the second day we suffered a double tyre puncture on the northern side of the plateau, quite far from any inhabited settlements. It was not easy to get down… Here we would like to say many thanks to those people from Shengjin village, first of all to Gjovani and his family, who helped us to fix our car.

When we finally got down from the Sent Mountain we already had more than a half day delay compared to our schedule (not mentioning the bitter taste of the failure…). Then, we went to Kosovo to find Montenegrina janinensis sporadica in the Bistrica valley near Decani. Failure again and further delay due to the congestion in the border station.

Our next station, on the fifth day of the trip, was the Bistrica valley north of Tropojë (this is another Bistrica!), and finally, our efforts to find Montenegrina resulted in success. We had another collecting station in North Albania, in the Drin River valley. Thereafter, we headed south for some interesting sites in the Shpat, Kurveleshi, Kendrevicë, Lunxherisë, Nemerçke and Vallamarë Mountains. Our last campsite was on the shore of Lake Ohrid, which is one of the most spectacular lakes of the Balkans and one of the most significant biodiversity hotspot of freshwater molluscs in the world. A perfect place for a quick ’dip at dawn’ before saying goodbye to Albania and driving home.

Montenegrina-related cartoon by Dorka Angyal 2014

Montenegrina-related cartoon by Dorka Angyal 2014

A quick summary of the trip: 3900 kilometers and three tyre punctures altogether, 60 sampling sites, more than ten sampled Montenegrina populations, a newly discovered cave, this cartoon on the right and last but not least, numerous snails, myriapods, crustaceans, freshwater insects, harvestmen and beetles, which are going to enrich the collections of the NHMW and the HNHM. For more images visit our gallery.