Italy is renowned for its stunning landscapes, charming towns, ancient ruins, world-class museums, breathtaking mountains, and picturesque beaches. With a Mediterranean climate, Italy experiences hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. However, the northern and alpine regions have mild, damp winters, while the hot winds can cause extreme temperatures during the summer, occasionally extending as far north as Italy.
Despite Italy’s abundant natural wonders that make it a must-visit destination, the country’s magnificent wildlife is often overlooked. More than 100 animal species call Italy their home, and the country’s 24 national parks preserve over 1.5 million acres, which equates to 15% of the country’s landmass.
In today’s blog, we’ll explore this spectacular fauna, so let’s dive in!
Wildlife of Italy
Italy is a true biodiversity hotspot, boasting more animal species than any other European nation. Positioned as a vital link between Eastern and Western Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Italy is home to an impressive one-third of the world’s known wildlife species.
The Alps, Apennines, central woodlands, and southern shrublands contribute to the region’s natural bounty. Additionally, Italy’s 4,900 miles of coastline is in the heart of the Mediterranean Basin’s biodiversity zone, making it a particularly rich habitat for flora and fauna.
Italy is home to approximately 57,000 species, including 4,777 that are endemic, excluding bacteria, viruses, and most microscopic invertebrates. UNESCO has recognized the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park’s significance as a World Heritage Site due to the quality of its natural resources, underscoring the value of Italy’s national parks.
Let’s now take a closer look at some of Italy’s fascinating animals and national parks.
Animals of Italy
Here is a list of some of the wild animals found in Italy.
1. The National Animal of Italy — Apennine Wolf
Italy is home to a variety of fascinating wildlife, including the national animal of Italy, the Apennine wolf. The Italian Peninsula is the only known home of this wolf species, including the Apennine wolf, which lives in the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps.
Conservation efforts have contributed to the species’ population growth, which has increased from just 70 in the 1970s to approximately 600-700 today.
2. Marsican Brown Bear
The Marsican brown bear, or Ursus arctos marsicanus, is mainly found near the Abruzzo-Lazio-Molise National Park. Although they typically avoid people, they may attack if threatened or provoked. However, if people feed them or disturb their young, they can become dangerous.
Sadly, the Marsican brown bear is severely endangered, with only around 45 remaining in the wild in Italy.
3. Eurasian Lynx
Another intriguing animal species in Italy is the Eurasian lynx, or Lynx lynx. As Europe’s third-largest predator after the brown bear and wolf, this elusive wildcat can be recognized by its distinctive coat pattern, which includes dark spots and black tufts at the ends of its ears. The lynx was once believed to be extinct in central Italy, but recent reports of sightings have occurred.
Despite an estimated global population of over 45,000, the species has been classified as “near endangered” by the IUCN since 2002.
4. Asp Viper
Asp Vipers, or Vipera aspis, are usually found in grassy meadows and woodlands at around 2200 meters above sea level. In Italy, these vipers are the most prevalent type of venomous snake. Aside from “Asp” and “European Asp,” you might also hear “Aspic Viper” or “Jura Viper” when referring to this snake.
Despite their generally docile nature toward humans, these snakes will strike with their large fangs when threatened or disturbed, delivering a painful bite that can have severe repercussions for people allergic to venomous snakes.
5. Sardinian Long-Eared Bat
The Sardinian Long-Eared Bat, or Plecotus sardus, is the only surviving native mammal of the Sardinian Lands. Although this mammal was discovered in 2002, it is considered a “highly susceptible species.”
It has been hypothesized that the appearance of humans around 9000 years ago led to the extinction of the last wild bats. While sightings of these bats are exceedingly rare, that rarity makes them all the more fascinating.
6. Corsican Hare
Corsican Hares, or Lepus corsicanus, are native to Corsica and southern and central Italy. They usually live near maquis shrubland, grassland, cultivated regions, and dune environments. You can find them anywhere in Sicily, from the ocean floor to 2,400 feet atop Mount Etna.
Open grassy or arable fields are the best places to look, especially those near the edges of woods or decent hedgerows, where they can find cover.
7. Alpine Marmot
The Alpine Marmot, or Marmota marmota, is the largest squirrel species, growing up to 54 centimeters long and weighing 8 kilograms. These marmots inhabit the Apennines in Italy at elevations of 3,200 to 8,000 meters.
They are expert diggers and can dig through dirt faster and more efficiently than a human with a pickaxe. When they sense danger, they produce a high-pitched whistling sound to alert each other.
Chamois, or Rupicapra rupicapra, are a goat-antelope species endemic to European mountains. They are surprisingly small compared to other bovids, measuring 80 centimeters tall, 137 centimeters long, and weighing 45 kilograms when fully grown. Their brown fur lightens to a bluish-grey in the cold, and both sexes have distinctive spikes.
Chamois are fast runners and can easily outrun their predators, with a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour on the ground and a horizontal jumping distance of 6 meters.
9. European Badger
The European Badger, or Meles meles, is a native European animal that can also be found in West Asia. These badgers have wide bodies, tiny heads, and short tails, and their hair is a mix of black, white, grey, and brown. During the day, they rest in underground tunnels that can house multiple badger families.
These burrows have complex networks of rooms and passageways accessible via various routes. Badgers are exceptionally hygienic and replace the bedding in their tunnels with clean supplies. They defecate in the open, leaving piles of feces at strategic points around their territory.
10. Mediterranean Black Widow Spider
Italy’s Mediterranean black widow spider, or Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, is highly venomous. While a bite from any black widow spider can be excruciating and potentially deadly, they rarely bite humans. They are widespread in Italy’s southern and central regions, as well as Puglia and Sardinia.
These spiders are not usually aggressive and will only attack if threatened. While they may bite on occasion, no poison is released. Their black body is marked with 13 red, orange, and yellow spots, making them easy to identify.
11. Alpine Ibex
The Alpine ibex, or Capra ibex, is found in the northern mountains of Italy. This species includes several varieties of wild mountain goats and is known for its large, backward-curving horns and brownish-grey coat.
Before their reintroduction, Alpine ibex were only found in the Gran Paradiso National Park in northern Italy and the Maurienne Valley in the French Alps. However, in 1906, Switzerland became the first European country to begin reintroducing the species.
12. Corsican Red Deer
The Corsican red deer, or Cervus elaphus corsicanus, is native to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The Corsican deer is a subspecies of red deer, also known as the Sardinian deer. Although smaller than a regular red deer, this species’ antlers can still reach a maximum length of 80 centimeters.
To witness male deer fighting over mature females, the best time to visit is between August and November, during the mating season. Typically, there are twelve females for every male deer.
13. Golden Eagles
Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are one of the world’s most widely distributed eagle species. These magnificent birds are predominantly found in the eastern United States, but their range extends to Alaska in the west. Besides their native range in Europe, Golden Eagles have also been successfully introduced to Asia and northern Africa.
In Italy, Golden Eagles inhabit alpine and subalpine areas, hills, and plains. They are found in the Alps, the Apennines, and the country’s main islands. These birds, named after their golden-colored head and neck feathers, are large, powerful raptors capable of rapid flight.
14. Monk Parakeet
Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) are small parrots with green and grey feathers. They are native to Argentina and neighboring countries with temperate to subtropical climates but have since spread to North America and Europe.
These birds are only 29 centimeters in length, with a wingspan of 48 centimeters. Their diet consists mainly of seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, and other plant materials such as leaf buds and blossoms. However, they will also consume insects if necessary.
15. Mediterranean Monk Seals
Mediterranean Monk Seals (Monachus monachus) are one of the two surviving species of monk seals and the only living member of the genus Monachus. With less than 700 individuals remaining in the world, the Mediterranean monk seal is critically threatened, just like its Hawaiian counterpart.
Although this seal is occasionally spotted in the Marmara and Black Seas, it is most frequently found in the Aegean Sea, specifically in the Foca region near Izmir.
The national parks in Italy are some of the country’s most valuable treasures, encompassing cultural, historical, and environmental riches. Italy boasts 24 breathtaking national parks that are open to tourists for exploration and discovery.
The National Park of Abruzzo is Italy’s second-oldest park and is critical for preserving endangered species such as the Italian wolf and the Abruzzo brown bear.
The Gran Paradiso National Park is designated to protect ecosystems of national and international significance in the valleys surrounding the Gran Paradiso massif, ensuring the preservation of animals for future generations.
Majella National Park offers a range of hiking experiences, from a few hours to several days, along its extensive 700 km trail network.
Stelvio National Park is home to the Passo dello Stelvio, a high mountain pass that attracts visitors with its hiking paths and remnants of World War I fortifications. The park’s wildlife includes birds of prey and marmots, providing visitors with a unique experience of nature.
Italy, with its rich history, vibrant culture, and mouthwatering cuisine, is a must-visit destination in Europe. Moreover, nature’s finest flora and fauna are abundantly found in Italy. From the birds and animals of Sardinia to the bears and wolves of the Abruzzo Mountains, there’s a lot to see and experience here. So, the wildlife of Italy is another compelling argument for planning a trip there as soon as feasible.