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Spanish Animals: The Fauna Of The Iberian Penninsula

Spanish animals

Spanish Animals: The Fauna Of The Iberian Penninsula

There is a wide variety of beautiful and interesting Spanish Animals. In this article our local guides break down the most famous or elusive species that make their home on the Iberian peninsula. 

Check out all the coolest animals you can find in Spain. 

Spanish Animals: The Fauna Of The Iberian Penninsula

Top 10 Spanish Animals

To start off this article, let’s go over the most famous animals you can find in Spain:

Spanish animals

Iberian Lynx

The Iberian lynx has to be at the top of the list. This elusive cat, scientifically known as Lynx pardinus, is a species of wild cat that can only be found on the Iberian Peninsula. The Iberian Lynx is a very elusive and endangered creature. There just under 700 individuals left in the wild after an years of conservation efforts. During the 1960’s and all the way up to the 2000’s the Iberian Lynx population began to dwindle because of habitat loss and hunting. At one point there were as few as 100 individuals in the wild, concentrated in the south of Spain, when the Lynx had once roamed freely all the way up to Galicia and Northern Portugal.  The species is currently considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature

The Iberian lynx is most commonly found in the doñana National Park in Huelva, in areas of Mediterranean woodland. They prefer areas with a combination of dense thicket and pasture. The species prey on the European rabbit and supplements its diet with rodents and partridge. 

Iberian Wolf

The Iberian wolf is almost a mythical creature, typically found in northern Spain. They inhabit the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, including northern Portugal.

Wild populations once roamed across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, but by the end of World War II the species had been eradicated in most of Northern Europe and Central Europe. 

Iberian wolves inhabit forests, mountains, and plains, and in Spain, populations can be found in a large portion of Galicia and Asturias. The Picos de Europa National Park plays host to a number of these creatures. 

Iberian wolf packs hunt boars, red deer, roe deer, rabbits, and ibexes, and also feed on sheep, which has always made them the enemy of farmers in this region. 

Iberian Wolf
cantabrian brown bear

Cantabrian brown bear

The Cantabrian Brown Bear is a subspecies of the European Brown Bear a characteristic inhabitant of mature forests in Europe. This unique type of bear is a rare sight but was once extremely common all across the Iberian peninsula, and in Madrid in particular.

These majestic animals can live up to thirty years. They can grow to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in length and adult males average 250 to 300 kg and can reach up to 481 kg (1,058 lb). Their coats can vary greatly, making them look almost like different sub-species: they can go from very dark brown to light gold and different shades of gray. 

They have poor eyesight in comparison to their other senses, although they can see in color at night. They detect objects more easily if they are in movement. Their hearing, however, is extremely acute and developed, as is their sense of smell, which is their most developed sense and the one that helps them the most in their daily lives. 

Their diet consists of a bit of everything they can find. They graze off the vegetation they find in the Cantabrian mountain range and in the Pyrenees, they gobble down insects and small prey and have been seen hinting wild ungulates and livestock as well.

Spanish Ibex

The Spanish ibex or the Iberian ibex is a species of ibex that has four subspecies. Unfortunately, two of these subspecies are now extinct, while the two remaining subspecies are endemic to the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish Ibex lives in rocky habitats and prefer cliffs with scrub, deciduous trees, or coniferous trees.

This species is equally active during the day than at night, although its maximum hours of activity are during the morning and at the end of the afternoon, near twilight. 

They are sociable animals, but they often change herds. They inhabit both forests and grasslands, in mountainous heights between 500 and 2500 meters above sea level, rising in summer even above 3000 m. Their conservation has caused them to be distributed to previously totally unthinkable areas such as coastal areas of Malaga, Granada or Almería, where they can occasionally be seen on the seashore.

Iberian Ibex
iberian pig

Iberian Pig

The Iberian pig is one of the most famous animals from the Iberian Peninsula. These amazing creatures are responsible for producing the ultra-famous and ultra-delicious Iberian Ham.

The black pigs are an ancient species that are more closely related to wild boars than modern domestic pigs. The species currently live in clustered herds in Spain, as well as southern and central parts of Portugal. They prefer sparse oak forests and their diet famously is heavy in holm oak acorns, and the species produces highly commercialized ham due to its superior taste.

Pyrenean Chamois

The Pyrenean chamois is a type of goat-antelope known in Spain as gamuza or rebeco. This unique species is most commonly found in the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian Mountains. During summer, the Pyrenean chamois ascends the snowline, while in winter it descends to wooded regions.

Both sexes have hook-shaped horns, the male’s horns being thicker and with more closed hook shape. Their coats are light-colored in the head and throat and a dark spot covering the eyes like a mask. The color of the body is uniform, with a dark line that runs longitudinally on the back. The males are usually somewhat heavier than the females.

Its diet consists of flowers and herbs during summer, and lichens, and shoots during winter. 

Pyrenean chamois
Tarifa orcas

Orcas or Killer Whales 

These beautiful black and white creatures are more commonly associated with the North-Western coast of the United States and Canada, but they have inhabited the waters surrounding Spain for thousands of years. 

They can easily be spotted off the coast of the Canary Islands, but their most famous appearances at the straight of Gibraltar. These whales show up in large numbers while chasing their favorite prey, tuna, as they make their way into the warm Mediterranean sea. The Andalusian city of Tarifa is a well-known spot where you can witness this daring chase. 

Common Genet

The common genet is a medium-sized mammal that is native to Africa but has since been introduced to the Balearic Islands and Southwestern Europe. There is a subspecies that can only be found in Ibiza which is considered to be at risk.

They usually live in trees or bushes, places that provide shelter and food, although sometimes they do so in open spaces, and even in rivers. They are solitary animals except in their breeding season, the female usually having two litters a year with between one and four young each.

They feed mainly on rodents, small reptiles, and rabbits, and insects, occasionally feeding on birds. They are hunted by raptors, owls, and foxes

Comon Genet
European Mink

European Mink

These beautiful little animals are linked to aquatic environments such as rivers, streams, lagoons, marshy areas, channels, marshes and coastal areas.

Its preferred habitat is middle and lower river courses, with slow currents, dense vegetation on the banks, and good water quality. In Spain it inhabits mainly oceanic rivers, such as the Ebro river. Mediterranean rivers are unsuitable due to the lack of water in summer and the lack of vegetation on the banks due to the strong variations in flow. Their consist of fish, small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and crustaceans.

They are most active at twilight and at night. They are also a solitary and territorial species. The territory of adult males includes 2-3 females.

In Spain the mink can be found in Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country. After a very rapid population decline in recent years, it is currently in critical condition.

Spanish Bull or Toro de Lidia

And last but not least, perhaps the most famous animal from spain: the bull. The Lidia bull to be more specific. These bulls are descendants of the aurochs bull type, from the subspecies Bos primigenius primigenius, ancestor of the current Bos primigenius taurus, a large species of cattle that in its time was hunted throughout Central and Northern Europe.

These bull became the preferred bulls for bullfighting and there is documentation detailing their use in bullfights all the way back to in the year 1215 in Cuéllar (Segovia).

During the reign of the Catholic Kings Isabel and Ferdinand these bull became famous, and the tradition of selecting the “toro bravo” or “brave bull” appear during the 15th and 16th centuries in the province of Valladolid. 

During the 19th century, cattle ranches began to develop in other parts of Spain. Andalusia took the lead in the breeding of bulls, although those that were raised on the banks of the Jarama, the so-called Jijones de Villarrubia de los Ojos, the Navarrese, and the Aragonese were all coveted breeds 

Thus, the current Spanish bull can be considered the result of selection and work that has been carried out since the beginning of the 18th century. 

Spanish bull

Fauna of Spain by Region

Northern Spain

The North of Spain looks very different than what you might think. The North of Spain is lush and green with sheer mountains with a harsh coastline that hides and protects some of the most amazing beaches in the country.

When we talk of “northern Spain” we are referring to the region that comprises the Autonomous Communities of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabrian, La Rioja, the Basque Country, Aragon, Zaragoza, and Northern Catalonia, and Northern Castilla y Leon. Here temperatures are cooler and precipitation is greater. Here we can find everything from glaciers, green valleys, rich pasture lands and orchards, and even arid plains of the central lowlands. Another huge influence on this area wildlife is the Ebro River, Spain’s largest by volume that runs west-east across the entire region.

 

Northern Spain is a haven for some of Europe’s most spectacular birds, including a wide variety of raptors (including imperial eagles), Bearded Vultures, Wallcreepers, Egyptian Vultures, Black Woodpeckers, Urogallos, or Capercaillies, and White-winged Snowfinches. You can also find more elusive species like the Great and Little Bustards, the very rare and elusive Dupont’s Lark, and Common Cranes flock to the plains during the autumn and winter. 

This region is also home to some of the more impressive mammals on the peninsula including the Pyrenean Chamois, fallow deer, the Alpine Marmot, Spanish Brown Bears, Iberian Wolves, and the Iberian Wild Cat. 

During the summer months, this region also plays host to one of the highest diversities of butterflies in Europe. In particular, the Pyrenees mountain range is home to a wide variety of butterflies and moths including the Apollo, the Clouded Apollo, the Spanish Moon, and Giant Peacock Moths.

Best sites to visit 

The most obvious awnsers are the 4 enclaves that are part of Spain’s national park system that we can find in this region: The Islas Cies, the Picos de Europa, Ordesa y Monte Perdidro, and Aiguaestores y el Estany de Sant Maurici. Other sites you can check out are the Laguna de Gallocanta, El Planeron Ornithological Reserve (near Zaragoza), Los Monegros desert, Irati forest, Hoces de Lumbier y Arbayún, Bardenas Reales Natural Park.

Best time of year to visit

It depends on what critters you are looking to find. late February is the best period of the year for bird watchers. during this time al sorts of species make their way north during their migration over the Pyrenees to their breeding grounds in Northern Europe.  The best time for butterflies and flowers in the Pyrenees is from mid-June to the end of July. As for the mammals aim for spring. 

Central Spain

central spain

The central portion of Spain is often overlooked in regards to its natural value. But, in this general region, we find some of the most spectacular and thriving natural habitats in the country. 

The Sistema Central, or Central Range is a mountain chain that spans the western border of the Community of Madrid. Within this beautiful bit of country, we find the Guadarrama National Park, home to a wide variety of species including the iconic Iberian Imperia Eagle. Just south of Madrid, in the Province of Toledo, is the Cabañeros National Park that is known for playing host to many Spanish big game species including Spanish Red Deer, Fallow Deer, Roe Deer, and Wild Boar, as well as their predators.

Las Tablas de Daimiel is another national park you can find in this region located in Ciudad Real. Las Tablas is a breathtaking wetland, surrounded by the arid countryside of Castilla la Mancha. This national park is home to a wide variety of waterfowl and amphibians, and many water-dwelling mammals like otters and weasels.     

Extremadura, located in the western portion of this region is arid and unforgiving. However, it is arguably the best place in Western Europe to see raptors and bustards. This is because it is home to the Monfragüe National Park, a prime destination for migratory birds traveling north from Africa. You can find all kinds of eagles, hawks, and kites as well as will find White and Black Storks, Ibis, Egyptian Buzzards, Pin-tailed and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Great Spotted Cuckoos, and Roller

Best sites to visit 

Guadarrama National Park, Cabañeros National Park, La Albufera in Valencia, Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park, Monfragüe national park and Caceres Plains (northeast of Caceres), the Serena Steppes (southeast of Trujillo), and the Sierra de Gredos in Madrid.

Best time of year to visit

Mid-March to mid-April and early June are the best times if you are looking to spot rare birds. 

Southern Spain

southern spain

The portion of Southern Spain that is not bathed by water, in general, enjoys a semi-arid climate. However, those sections near sources of water, almost magically, seem to burst into life and attack an amazing number and variety of animals. The Mediterranean coast of Southern Spain is filled with life and famously attacks many dolphins and whales.  Particularly famous are the aforementioned killer whales that pass by Tarifa while chasing schools of tuna headed deep into the Mediterranean sea. 

The riverbanks of the large rivers of Andalucia are magnets for migratory birds, but the Guadalquivir River, the largest southern river, is the main attraction. The Guadalquivir’s estuary is the site of one of the most important National Parks in Europe: the Doñana National Park. This amazing area is home to 127 bird species including White Storks, Griffon, and Egyptian Vultures, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Honey Buzzard and Montagu’s Harrier, and Northern Bald Ibis – one of the rarest birds on the planet.

Another incredibly rare animal that can be found in Doñana is the Iberian Lynx. doñana is one of the last places were wild Iberian Lynxes can be seen. Other mammals such as Spanish Ibex, Wild Boar, Red Deer, and Egyptian Mongoose also live in this area of Spain. 

Best sites to visit

Doñana National Park, Tarifa, the Sierra de Andujar Natural Park, La Laguna de Fuentedepiedra, Sierra de Aracena Natural Park, Laguna de Medina, Chipiona, La Janda, and Ronda.

Best time of year to visit

Early September is one of the best times to visit Southern Spain. this is normally the time when the greatest numbers and variety of storks and raptors migrate over the Straits of Gibraltar.

If you are interested in seeing Killer Whales try mid-August to early September.

If you are trying to spot Iberian Lynx the best time is late September to March. 

The peak of the spring migration of birds through Southern Spain happens mid-April and early May when the Doñana is arguably at its best.

Fauna of the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands

canary islands and balearic islands

Balearic Islands

The Balearic Islands are located off the eastern coast of Spain, in the Mediterranean Sea. The largest islands of the archipelago are Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. Each of the islands enjoys its own unique environment.

The fauna that inhabits the Balearic Islands is typically Mediterranean. Where there is more diversity, is clearly in the marine environment. Of the coast of the Balearic Islands, there are over 400 species of fish, a hundred crustaceans, 8 cetaceans, and some 400 species of mollusks, as well as a wide variety of seabirds (gulls, sea crows, and shearwaters, among others).

The Balearic vertebrate fauna, most are mostly non-native: green toads, martens, weasels, genets, hedgehogs, snakes, rats, and mice. Only the “ferreret” toad (Alytes muletensis) and the Balearic lizards survive from the prehuman endemic fauna.

But the insects of the islands are the big highlight. There are over 1,700 species of coleopterans, about 600 of lepidoptera, about 400 of hymenoptera. Some of them are endemic to the Balearic Islands and many are beneficial as natural controllers of pests or pollinators. 

ferrete balear

Best sites to visit

Albufera de Mallorca, Serra de Tramuntana, Formentor Cape and Campos Salt pans, Albufereta Nature Reserve, Albufera des Grau Natural Parc, Son Bou marshes, Lluriac marshes and Addaia salt pans, Ses Salines Natural Parc and Sa Talaia.

Best time of the year to visit

The best time to visit The Balearic is in either Spring (April and May) or Fall (September and October). During this last period, the Autumn migration occurs.

March is also a fine time to visit but the weather may be unpredictable. If you want to enjoy some bird watching summer is a great time but it is also the hottest and most crowded period. 

Canary Islands

The fauna of the Canary Islands presents a complex diversity due to two determining factors; insularity and climate. The Canary Islands came into existence during the Miocene, and since then they have always been isolated from the continent.  

On the other hand, the climatic and landscape varieties found within the Canary Islands have an impact on this zoological diversity. Thus, the most eastern islands, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Lobos, the Chinijo archipelago, have spaces with semi-desert habitats and influenced by the nearby presence of the Sahara. Very different are the westernmost islands, which are home to Canary Island pine and laurel forests due to the climatic influence of the trade winds. In general, and leaving endemisms aside, the species present are typical of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Currently, about 12,700 different species of land animals live in the Canary Islands, in addition to another 4,500 marine ones. Among them, around 3,600 species are endemic, most of them terrestrial.

Canary Island giant lizard

On the islands there are several endemic species of giant lizards. Today the most abundant is the giant lizard of Gran Canaria.
The El Hierro giant lizard and the La Gomera giant lizard are in danger of extinction and are subject to captive breeding and reintroduction programs in areas of lower risk.
The giant lizard of La Palma was considered extinct until the discovery of several living specimens at the end of 2007.

Something similar happens to the spotted Canary lizard (Gallotia intermedia), an endemism from Tenerife that in the past occupied practically all the habitats of the island. Human activity for 2,500 years has brought it to the brink of extinction, inhabiting only the northwestern area. It was rediscovered in 1996.
The Atlantic lizard (Gallotia atlantica) is endemic to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura as well as other small islets.

Although they do not nest on the islands, four species of sea turtles can be observed in the waters of the archipelago: Loggerhead sea turtle, green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle and, occasionally, olive ridley turtle. 

There are currently about 20 species of land mammals in the Canary Islands, most of which have been introduced by man. The most important groups of terrestrial mammals of the Canary Islands are the bats and shrews, since nine species of these two groups are considered the only genuinely autochthonous species of terrestrial mammals of the islands the Canary Islands. The most famous mammal on the islands isn’t endemic, but it is emblematic. The Canarian Camel is the most famous animal from the canary island for being the preferred mode of transport across the local dunes. 

Birds, along with reptiles, are the ones that contribute the most endemic species to the Canarian fauna, with six species and 36 subspecies: the road pipit, the hubara, the corridor, blue finches of Gran Canaria, the rook, the red-billed chough, the common kestrel, the peregrine falcon, the tagarote falcon, the long-eared owl, the barn owl, the buzzard, the black kite, the sparrowhaw, and the osprey among  others 

Canarian Osprey

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