Fauna of Italy

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Italy has probably the highest levels of faunal biodiversity in Europe[1] with over 57,000 species recorded (more than a third of all European fauna).

Geological map of Italy

This is due to Italy’s

  • Southerly geographical position, surrounded by the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. There is 8,000 km of coastline and the Italian peninsula is in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, forming a corridor between central Europe and North Africa. Italy also receives species from the Balkans, Eurasia, the Middle East.
  • Varied geological structure.
  • High mountain ranges, especially the Alps and the Apennines.
  • Climate and habitat diversity - very broadly Alpine in the North, woodlands and river systems in Central Italy and Garigue (the Italian word is Gariga) and Maquis shrubland (in Italian, Macchia mediterranea) in the South.
  • High plant diversity (9,000 species - almost half Europe’s total).

86% of the Italian fauna is land-based, 14% is aquatic. Insects represent about two thirds of all of Italy’s fauna.


Portions of Italy are included in the Mediterranean Basin biodiversity hotspot. Important terrestrial ecoregions include the: Illyrian deciduous forests, the Italian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests, the South Apennine mixed montane forests, the Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests, Apennine deciduous montane forests, the Dinaric Mountains mixed forests(Trieste) and the Po Basin mixed forests. There are also many cave systems significant for Biodiversity.

Endemic species

The Checklist of the Species of the Italian Fauna includes 4777 endemic animal species.

Unique Mammals include the Corsican hare, the Sardinian long-eared bat, the Apennine shrew, the Udine shrew the Calabria pine vole and the Sardinian deer.

Endemic amphibians and reptiles include the spectacled salamander, the Sardinian cave salamander, the Italian cave salamander, the Monte Albo cave salamander, the Sardinian brook newt, the Italian newt, the Italian frog, the Apennine yellow-bellied toad, the Sicilian green toad, the Aeolian wall lizard, the Sicilian wall lizard, the Italian Aesculapian snake, and the Sicilian pond turtle (Emys trinacris).

Endemic fish include the Bergatino loach, the Italian barbel, the brook chub, the Arno goby, the Garda carp, the carpione del Fibreno, and the Timavo sculpin.

Endemic Lepidoptera are listed here it:Farfalle e falene endemiche dell'Italia. A notable species is the European owl moth found only in Southern Italy.


There are 102 mammal species in Italy. Some of the species are Alpine Marmot, forest dormouse, Etruscan shrew (the smallest mammal in the world), European snow vole, and Schreiber's long-fingered bat. Notable large mammals are the Eurasian lynx, Italian wolf, Marsican brown bear, Pyrenean chamois, Alpine ibex, common genet, axis deer, mouflon, rough-toothed dolphin and Mediterranean monk seal.



Italy has recorded 516 bird species. Notable birds are the hoopoe, roller, white-backed woodpecker, black woodpecker, European green woodpecker, Alpine chough, snow finch, rock partridge, Bonelli's eagle, goshawk, eagle owl, lammergeier, Egyptian vulture, griffon vulture, collared pratincole, glossy ibis, spoonbill, Allen's gallinule, great bustard, trumpeter finch, rosy starling, great spotted cuckoo, woodchat shrike, bluethroat and Eurasian nightjar.

A migratory flock of honey buzzards


Italy is an important route for trans-Saharan bird migrants because it is a natural bridge connecting continental Europe to Africa across the Mediterranean.

Raptor and stork migration

Migratory birds with a low wing loading such as stork, European honey buzzard, black kite, marsh harrier, kestrel and hobby depend on thermals and updrafts for soaring to cross the Mediterranean in spring. Although the majority of these birds enter Europe via the Bosphorus or Straits of Gibraltar large numbers leave at Cap Bon in Tunisia and enter Europe via the Aeolian Islands and the Straits of Messina to Calabria. Most of these birds breed in central and northern Europe. The birds return to Africa in autumn by the same route.

Praying mantis, a very common species in Southern Italy

Invertebrate fauna

The Italian fauna includes 56213 species of invertebrates. This is 97.8% of the total species richness (the vertebrates are 2.2%).Of these 37303 species (approximately 65%) are insects. The (recorded) species richness of the Italian fauna is certainly one of the highest in a European country. For insects (the best known in other countries as well and therefore allowing comparison) the species richness is the absolute highest (Minelli A., 1996). Northern Italy ( Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Lombardia, Val d'Aosta, Piemonte, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna) has 33414 invertebrate species. Peninsular Italy (Toscana, Marche, Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzi, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata) has 24297. This may be a faunistic gradient but less complete data are available for southern Italy and the biotopes are very different. ( Stoch F., 2004).

Commonly seen insects in Italy are the sail swallowtail, the scarlet dragonfly, Cleopatra butterfly, European praying mantis, cicada, glow-worm, hummingbird hawk-moth, Italian stinkbug, firebug, field cricket, European hornet, cuckoo wasp, carpenter bee and the rose chafer.

Marine fauna

Paramuricea clavata reef

Characteristic habitat types of the Italian Mediterranean coastal zone, are the Cystoseira biocenosis and the Posidonia oceanica seagrass beds, Lithophyllum lichenoides communities form coralligenous reefs which are a spectacular sight the coralline alga is covered with large gorgonian fans, coral, and a diverse array of often colourful invertebrate organisms and hundreds of species of fish. These communities host sponges (Porifera), sea anemones, jellyfishes (Cnidaria), sea mats and hornwrack (Bryozoa) segmented worms (Annelida) snails, bivalves, squids and octopuses (Mollusca), starfishes and sea urchins (Echinodermata), crabs, lobsters and shrimps (Arthropoda) and little known groups such as, Echiura, Priapulida, Sipuncula, Brachiopoda, Pogonophora, Phoronida and Hemichordata. Amongst the thousand or so species of invertebrates found in the Italian marine envrironment are mantis shrimps, Mediterranean slipper lobsters, octopus, cuttlefish, scribbled nudibranch, Hypselodoris picta, tasselled nudibranch, Flabellina affinis, precious coral, zigzag coral, purple sail, Mediterranean jellyfish, spiny spider crab, circular crab, broad-clawed porcelain crab, noble pen shell, pilgrim’s scallop, ragged sea hare, violet sea hare, Portuguese man o' war, black sea-urchin, purple sea urchin, Mediterranean starfish, sea mouse, and Parazoanthus axinellae.

The Straits of Messina

The Tyrrhenian and Ionian meet in Straits of Messina generating powerful currents and strong turbulence, aggravated by the abrupt changes of sea bottom topography in the vicinity of the town of Messina. As a consequence many species, known as rare in the Mediterranean are found in large numbers in the straits. It is common to find deep species at the surface and vice versa, or open-sea species along the coast. The upwelling water drags abyssal species to the surface and sometimes strands them on the shore. Made famous in the nineteth ceturyby the zoologists Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay and Anton Dohrn the straits have an extraordinary abundance and structure of planktonic, benthic and nektonic communities.

Lessepsian migration

Since the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869 invasive species originated from the Red Sea have become a major component of the Mediterranean ecosystem, and have serious impacts on the Mediterranean ecology, endangering many local and endemic Mediterranean species. About 300 species native to the Red Sea have already been identified in the Mediterranean Sea, and there are probably others yet unidentified. This is called Lessepsian migration.

Introduced and alien species

Two monk parakeets from Brazil. This species is now harmlessly established in urban parks.

The Italian fauna is rich in introduced species. Many introductions date from the time of the Roman Empire, for instance the carp and the crested porcupine.

Examples of more recent and sometimes unwelcome arrivals are the Asian tiger mosquito a feared invader from Southeast Asia, the citrus long-horned beetle a pest species from China, the cottony cushion scale which is a pest of citrus, the pumpkinseed fish, the mosquitofish, the Louisiana crayfish, the zebra mussel, the strawberry finch and the coypu. Two introduced parrot species, the monk parakeet and the rose-ringed parakeet are found in city parks.

Zoological societies

Zoological museums

Museums which contain important collections of the fauna of Italy and which have public galleries devoted to the Italian fauna are:

Mammuthus meridionalis in the Museo paleontologico di Montevarchi

Pleistocene fauna

The Pleistocene large mammals of Italy were primarily Eurasian immigrants fleeing extreme cold further north. Typical species are:

Dwarf elephants

Pleistocene dwarf elephants developed as a result of isolation on the island of Sardinia:

and on Sicily and Malta

  • Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) antiquus leonardii (Aguirre, 1969)
  • Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) mnaidriensis (Adams, 1874)
  • Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) melitensis (Falconer, 1868)
  • Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) falconeri (Busk, 1867))

Other Pleostocene animals found on these islands are


BiodiversItalia at Bioparco, Rome

Italy has 20 National Parks and more than 130 Regional. In addition, there are National Reserve areas (some 150 territories protected by state laws), Regional Reserves (a total of 270 areas protected by regional laws), and 16 Marine Reserves.

See also


  1. "ITALY'S FIFTH NATIONAL REPORT TO THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY" (PDF). Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. Retrieved 17 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Dobson, M 1998 Mammal distributions in the western Mediterranean: the role of human intervention, Mammal Review 28 (1998), pp. 77–88. [3]

  • (Minelli A., 1996 La checklist delle specie della fauna italiana. Un bilancio del pro- getto. Bollettino Museo Civico Storia naturale Verona, 20: 249-261.
  • Minelli A, Chemin, C., R. Winch & Ruffo S. Ruffo & S.2002 La fauna in Italia. The fauna in Italy. Touring Editore, Milano e Ministero dell'Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio, Roma. Touring Editore, Milan and Ministry for the Environment and Territory, Rome. 448 pp.
  • Sindaco, R., Doria, G., Razzetti, E. and Bernini, F. 2006 (eds) Atlas of Italian Amphibians and Reptiles\Atlante Degli Anfibi E Dei Rettili D'Italia Polistampa.
  • [4] Logozzo, D., Bassi, E., and Cocchi, L.. 2004. Crossing the sea en route to Africa: autumn migration of some Accipitriformes over two central Mediterranean Islands. Ring 26:71-78.
  • Stoche, F., 2000 How many endemic species ? Species richness assessment and conservation priorities in Italy.Belgian Journal of Entomology, 2: 125-133.
  • Stoche, F., 2004 Banche dati e distribuzione della fauna italiana: gli invertebrati. Quad. Cons. Natura, 18, Min. Ambiente Ist. Naz. Fauna Selvatica: 21-36.

External links