Species List - Canary Islands

 

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Insects            Reptiles            Birds

 

The seven major Canary Islands form a small volcanic archipelago 60 km from the coast of Morocco. The islands are the product of a volcanic 'hotspot', a column of magma that is thought to have remained stationary beneath the Earth's crust since the Cretaceous. As the motion of the oceanic crust carried newly-emerged islands away from the hotspot, new volcanoes formed in their place, producing a chain of islands in a process likened to the movement of a conveyor belt. Since the islands began forming in the Miocene (23-5 million years ago), differences in the age and distance of each from the hotspot has resulted in each island having distinct ecosystems, from the laurisilva (subtropical laurel rainforest) of La Palma and La Gomera at the western edge of the archipelago to the arid scrub and barren volcanic malpais (badlands) of Fuerteventura. Consequently, the wildlife of the islands has adapted and evolved into a variety of forms found nowhere else, with several species being restricted to individual islands. The islands are also known for several species of endemic lizard and mammal. Canarian wildlife has affinities with both African and European forms and several species, such as the Algerian hedgehog, represent introductions from the African mainland. The marine life, too, includes endemic, Mediterranean and African lineages.

 

It is a testament to the national importance of Canarian wildlife and habitats that, until the 1990s, all but one of Spain's national parks were located in the islands, one each on Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Palma and La Gomera. The entire island of La Palma has been declared a biosphere reserve. Its laurisilva forest, harbouring numerous endemic species, is an example of a relict ecosystem that once covered much of Europe, but which is today confined to the Canaries, the Azores and Madeira. Many of the islands' species, however, are threatened, and a number are now extinct. The lava mouse (Malpaisomys insularis), Canary Islands giant rat (Canariomys tamarani), Canary Islands quail (Coturnix gomerae) and the unusual the flightless long-legged bunting (Emberiza alcoveri) were all lost in historic or prehistoric times, probably due to the introduction of cats and dogs to the islands by early Guanche colonists. The Eastern Canary Islands chiffchaff (Phylloscopus canariensis exsui) has been lost since the beginning of the 20th Century. The same may soon be true of the El Hierro giant lizard (Gallotia simonyi), if this animal is not already extinct.

 

 

INSECTS


Almost 6,000 insect species are known from the archipelago, over a third of them endemic. The Canary Islands has a small but interesting butterfly fauna, containing a diverse mix of African, European, North American and Asiatic species. At least five species are endemic; intriguingly, the Canarian blue is most closely-related to species in Madagascar, at the opposite corner of Africa. In common with other elements of the fauna, species and subspecies of endemic Canarian butterflies, beetles and other insects are often restricted to individual islands.

 

Striped Hawkmoth Hyles livornica

 

 

REPTILES

 

The Canary Islands has seven or eight surviving species of endemic rock lizard, all members of the endemic genus Gallotia. A further species is known only from remains. These lizards are notable for the exceptional size (for the family) of some members, a phenomenon known as insular gigantism. Two species each of gecko and skink are also restricted to the archipelago. Indeed, the islands' native reptile fauna may be 100% endemic, the few other species known from the islands apparently being recent introductions. Remains are known of an extinct Canarian giant tortoise, and five species of marine turtle pass through the archipelago's waters. No snakes occur in the Canary Islands.

 

Canary Island Wall Gecko Tarentola angustimentalis
Atlantic Lizard Gallotia atlantica

 

 

BIRDS

 

Twelve bird species are restricted to the Canary Islands, a high number for such a small archipelago. Together with Madeira, the Canaries have been designated an Endemic Bird Area by BirdLife International, and an urgent priority area for conservation. Most restricted-range species on the islands are dependent on laurel forest, with the majority being found on Tenerife. The Atlantic canary (Serinus canaria) itself, named after the islands rather than vice versa, is most common in the western islands of the archipelago and also occurs on Madeira and in the Azores. The wild bird is a fairly unremarkable finch resembling the closely-related serin, with rather dull grey-brown upperparts.

 

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus

 

 

 

Species List - Fuerteventura

 

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The oldest and second-largest of the major Canary Islands, Fuerteventura is the closest to Africa and is dominated ecologically by sparse scrub; the island's famous winds, together with the effects of 20 million years of soil erosion and a lack of rainfall, prevent woodland from taking hold, and trees only persist in sheltered valleys. Instead, a range of endemic euphorbs and saltmarsh species dominate the flora. Canarian endemics in all animal groups are known from the island. Although the wildlife is generally depauperate relative to the western islands, Fuerteventura is an important breeding site for the endemic subspecies of the Egyptian vulture. The island's proximity to Africa also makes it valuable for several species of seabird. Marine species include manta rays, seahorses and a species of parrotfish.

 

Human settlement and agriculture has, however, caused severe damage to Fuerteventura's ecosystems. Much of the naturally scrub-covered island has been rendered barren by grazing animals, mainly goats, accelerating the natural process of desertification. The island's three native reptiles are threatened by habitat loss, which ironically includes the destruction of artificial stone walls on which the Canary Islands skink depends. Development for tourism and industry threatens the island's most celebrated inhabitant, the Canary Islands chat or Fuerteventura stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae), a bird which is now extinct in the rest of the archipelago..

 

 

 

 

 

INSECTS

 

Fuerteventura is occasionally 'plagued' by locusts blown over from the African mainland, and an outbreak of red palm weevil recently threatened the island's surviving native palms. Most of the island's insects are, of course, more benign; monarch butterflies are among the more charismatic species found on Fuerteventura, while the lemon white is a visitor from Africa that, in the Canaries, is restricted to the eastern islands.

 

 

 

Striped Hawkmoth Hyles livornica

 

 

REPTILES

 

The three reptiles found on Fuerteventura are all species or subspecies naturally endemic to this island and Lanzarote; the Canarian skink (Chalcides simonyi) may only be found on Fuerteventura, and is in decline due to the twin pressures of natural desertification and the loss of artificial refuge habitats.

 

 

 

Canary Island Wall Gecko Tarentola angustimentalis
Atlantic Lizard Gallotia atlantica

 

 

BIRDS

 

As well as the Fuerteventura stonechat, the island is home to almost all the remaining pairs of Canarian Egyptian vultures, a subspecies restricted to the islands. The island's extensive beaches and its saltmarsh habitats are valuable for migratory waders and seabirds, including shearwaters and petrels not known to breed on other nearby islands, making Fuerteventura one of the most diverse islands in the Canaries for its birdlife.

 

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus

 

Click anywhere on the map to go directly to the Canary Islands species list, or near one of the hotspots (coloured circles) to go to the species list for that region.
 
Disclaimer: This map contains material originally sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Species Lists

Canary Islands