Regardless of being a stark, volcanic land with little or no vegetation, Iceland has advanced to grow to be dwelling to a various array of animal species. From the chilly Atlantic’s crystal clear waters to the wealthy rural terrains on the mainland, uncover which animals give Iceland its distinct nationwide character. Learn forward to study all concerning the animals of Iceland.
Earlier than people started to settle Iceland within the ninth Century, it had however one land mammal, the Arctic fox. The remainder of the creatures have been both birds or marine animals. A millennium later, nonetheless, a wealth of life has tailored to the cruel local weather.
From its distinctive home livestock, which fairly actually stored Icelanders alive throughout their most making an attempt occasions, to the creatures which have escaped captivity and fashioned a wild inhabitants, the animals of Iceland are thriving. They’re a part of what pulls company right here from world wide.
The overwhelming majority of animals you will notice as you journey round Iceland are home. In any case, this can be a nation that depends closely on agriculture.
Whereas livestock might not appear to be fascinating creatures, the best way they’ve tailored to the nation’s local weather, and their roles all through Icelandic historical past, have been important for human survival.
Photograph by Cosmic Timetraveller
Sheep have been the lifeblood of Iceland for hundreds of years. The primary settlers from Norway introduced them to the island. It was solely due to their wool and meat that anybody might survive Iceland’s harsh situations.
One solely must learn Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness’s novel Independent People to grasp the reverence Icelanders have had for these creatures. They’re the central dialog matter between many of the nation folks.
Whereas not being probably the most thrilling animals in Iceland, their function within the nation’s historical past has been extremely vital. At any time when the nation has gone by way of horrible struggles or a surge in progress, it has at all times returned to sheep.
For instance, the 1783 eruption of the volcano Laki was probably the most deadly within the nation’s historical past.
As much as 25 % of the inhabitants died, principally due to famine brought on by the 80 % of the nation’s sheep misplaced to the ash’s poisons.
Then again, Iceland’s vital progress and industrialization throughout World Conflict One have been additionally resulting from these creatures.
With the European countryside ravaged by struggle, Icelandic wool was in excessive demand. The wealth that got here from sheep merchandise throughout these 4 years helped propel Iceland into changing into the fashionable nation it’s as we speak.
There are roughly 800,000 sheep in Iceland, properly over two occasions greater than there are individuals.
Their wool is used to create distinctive handicrafts, such because the Icelandic sweater, in any other case called a ‘Lopapeysa,’ and their meat is featured in virtually all conventional dishes that should not have fish.
Maybe the nation’s most basic dish is the lamb soup, which is world-renowned.
The explanation that the Icelandic lamb tastes as scrumptious because it does is relatively morbid. The sheep are free-roaming all through summer time, they usually graze on Icelandic thyme, unwittingly flavoring their meat whereas they’re nonetheless alive.
Photograph by Ulf Bodin
Just like the livestock of Iceland, Icelandic sheepdogs developed from their Nordic cousins when dropped at Iceland by early settlers lots of of years in the past.
Since then, they’ve been important in aiding farmers, herding, and guarding property.
Like most animals dropped at Iceland, they’re a little bit smaller than their family overseas. They’re additionally rather more vulnerable to illness resulting from Iceland’s isolation, to the extent that they confronted extinction from the late nineteenth Century.
After a ban of different canine breeds getting into the nation, and later pet vaccines and fashionable veterinary care that made this primary step redundant, the inhabitants has recovered.
Aside from their dimension, Icelandic sheepdogs share the identical fluffy coat and curled tails as different sheepdog breeds.
In addition they share the identical habits. The sheepdogs are extremely energetic, resilient, agile, and pleasant, making them nice companions for these with the time or area to allow them to train.
The overwhelming majority of people dwell out within the nation, the place they’ll make the most of their excessive power and pure herding instincts to assist their house owners.
Icelandic horses are in no way like different breeds. At first sight, it seems that they solely differ when it comes to peak, as they hardly ever attain 150 cm tall.
After a couple of minutes of their firm, nonetheless, it turns into obvious that Icelandic horses are extra pleasant, curious, and clever than different horses. These character traits have made them a central a part of Icelandic identification.
The explanation for his or her distinctive attraction is because of their descendants. When Iceland was first settled, just one horse might match inside a longboat.
Since most of the early settlers have been rich chieftains, they’d solely take the perfect of their inventory with them. That meant that, because the settlement interval ended, Iceland had a wholesome inhabitants of the sturdiest, strongest, and smartest horses from Norway.
Initially, the horses have been virtually solely used for transportation and generally battles between clans.
Over the centuries, nonetheless, they have been used increasingly for farm work and have become central to the nation’s survival.
These in possession of a horse have been in a position to journey from the nation to the cities and buying and selling posts, permitting them to develop extra wealth and alternative. These with out one have been left remoted and extra impoverished consequently.
As equestrian sports activities grew to become increasingly well-liked, Icelandic horses grew to become famous for one thing else – whereas most breeds world wide have three or 4 ‘gaits’ (type of strolling, such because the trot and gallop), Icelandic horses had 5.
Their distinctive gait, the ‘skeið,’ is a method that developed resulting from Iceland’s tough terrain and is famous for being snug with the potential for speedy acceleration.
Due to their character, look, and distinctive qualities, Icelandic horses have grow to be very talked-about in dressage.
Extra Icelandic horses now dwell exterior the nation than inside; 100,000 dwell overseas, in comparison with the 80,000 residing domestically.
People who go away Iceland are by no means in a position to return, and no different breeds are allowed on the island. These restrictions are as a result of the remoted native breed is vulnerable to illnesses, and a international an infection might cripple the entire inhabitants.
Using an Icelandic horse is as close to to an important Icelandic expertise as there’s.
There’s a wealth of horse-riding excursions throughout Iceland. As a result of they often solely final a number of hours, it’s attainable to mix this tour with many others, akin to snorkeling, caving, or sightseeing around the Golden Circle.
Photograph by Kristoffer Jensen
A much less generally seen farm animal in Iceland is the cow, however the nation does have a novel breed. Just like the horses, Icelandic cattle have been introduced over with Norway’s earliest settlers and have since developed distinctive traits. They’re, for instance, smaller than their European counterparts and really vulnerable to international illnesses.
Sadly, whereas Icelandic horses’ different qualities evaluate favorably to related breeds worldwide, these of Icelandic cattle don’t. The Agricultural University of Iceland just lately launched a research saying that Swedish cows would produce extra milk at a decrease value than the native breed and advised that making the change would profit the economic system.
Though the Icelandic inhabitants isn’t as linked to their cows as they’re to their horses, there was nonetheless resistance to this concept.
For a millennium, Icelandic cattle have produced important dairy merchandise, a lot of which have grow to be an integral a part of the nation’s tradition. One significantly notable instance is Skyr, a thick, yogurt-like cheese. Because of this, many contemplate them too necessary to Icelandic heritage to abandon. The cows are additionally favored for his or her various colorations and patterns.
Photograph by Tamas Tuzes-Katai
Iceland solely had one place of birth animal when the Norse first arrived right here. At the moment, there are a number of species to be discovered throughout the nation.
None arrived naturally, both being introduced over by people or sneaking throughout on boats, however all have established themselves efficiently, for higher or worse.
Reindeer have been introduced over to Iceland a lot later than home animals, within the 18th Century.
Initially, they have been presupposed to be farmed as they have been throughout Scandinavia, however Icelanders by no means took to the follow. The inhabitants, due to this fact, grew to become wild.
About 3,000 reindeer now dwell within the nation, all concentrated within the east. The reindeer are mostly discovered round Snæfell, on the upper floor all through summer time and within the hotter lowlands all through winter, however have been seen as far south as Jökulsárlón and as far north as Vopnafjörður.
These driving by way of or staying within the East Fjords have an inexpensive likelihood of recognizing a herd.
Whereas the reindeer are well-loved throughout Iceland, their inhabitants is managed seasonally, as it’s a concern that they could take meals away from the grazing lands utilized by the free-roaming sheep.
This consumption would trigger vital injury to the economic system within the case of a brutal winter or a large-scale volcanic eruption, each of which aren’t in any respect unusual in Iceland.
Photograph by Pdreijnders, from Wiki Creative Commons. No edits.
All through historical past, every time people found and settled new lands, they introduced rodents with them, and Iceland is not any exception.
Brown rats, together with wooden and home mice, came to visit both with early settlers or later with buying and selling ships and fashioned populations. The rats primarily dwell in populated areas, whereas the mice have unfold all throughout the nation.
Iceland additionally has a inhabitants of untamed mink that was established extra just lately. They have been imported to be used in fur farms all through the early twentieth Century however escaped and have become wild.
Now, they’re usually noticed fishing within the waterways round Reykjavík, looking for bird-eggs alongside nesting cliffs, and have grow to be the bane of rooster farmers throughout the nation.
Rabbits are one other invasive species and got here much more just lately than the mink. The vast majority of the rabbits are descendants of pets launched in 2010. Now, they’ve unfold throughout the nation and wreak havoc wherever they go.
In Öskjuhlíð, a forested space in Reykjavík, they gnaw by way of tree roots and fences, damaging nature and human constructions alike.
In farms throughout the nation, they dig into, and damage hay meant for different animals, and their behavior of working into the roads has prompted several crashes.
Nonetheless, they make for an enthralling sight within the capital’s inexperienced areas.
As has been famous, Iceland has only one indigenous land mammal. That’s not to say, nonetheless, that the native wildlife lacks variety.
Iceland has a wealth of fauna in its seas and skies, which draw guests from the world over. It is likely one of the greatest locations to go to for chicken watching, seal watching, and whale watching.
Photograph by Jonatan Pie
Earlier than human settlement, Arctic foxes have been the one land mammal that lived in Iceland. They walked over sea ice to the island over the last ice age, solely to be stranded there when it melted over 10,000 years in the past.
Extremely adaptable creatures, they managed to maintain themselves by feeding on eggs, birds, invertebrates, and berries.
When people arrived, the foxes have been hunted extensively for fur and to guard livestock. With the event of fur-farms, the previous motive now not applies, however farmers nonetheless keep that inhabitants management remains to be important for his or her economic system.
Whereas looking disrupted the fox populations, human arrival meant a wealth of recent meals within the type of rodents, meals waste, and lambs, permitting the species to outlive.
Photograph by Jonatan Pie
The Arctic foxes in Iceland are available two colours, white and blue. White foxes change their coat utterly between seasons, going from snow-white in winter to brown and white in summer time.
Blue foxes don’t change coat, however their fur is bleached all through summer time in order that they’re much lighter by the arrival of winter.
Nonetheless, each variants thicken their fur all through the colder months and lose it when the climate warms.
Arctic foxes may be discovered all throughout Iceland however are primarily concentrated within the Westfjords. Right here, you could find them within the very north of the distant Hornstrandir Reserve, the place they’re protected.
On this area, they’re fairly fearless of people, so wildlife photographers usually come for some very intimate pictures.
Since 2007, there was an Arctic Fox Center within the village of Súðavík. The middle has led the best way in researching these animals, educating individuals about their threats, and selling eco-tourism.
Image from Húsavík Traditional Whale Watching
Iceland’s fertile sub-Arctic waters, fed by the Gulf Stream, are dwelling to over twenty completely different whale and dolphin species.
It is likely one of the greatest locations on the earth for whale watching, particularly through the summer time when the good whales migrate right here to feed.
This trade is altering how Icelanders view the creatures of the deep, as the connection between the 2 is historic and sophisticated.
As seafarers, many accounts from early Icelanders depict whales as horrible leviathans. An particularly well-known story tells of a warlock who tried to take over Iceland by remodeling into one earlier than being rebuffed on all 4 shores by a distinct guardian spirit.
Image from Húsavík Traditional Whale Watching
Nonetheless, whereas feared when of their pure setting, whales have been vastly appreciated after they washed up on the seashores.
The meat from a single stranding might feed communities, and their oil might provide candles and lanterns to assist maintain individuals by way of the darkish winters. The phrase for ‘windfall’ in Icelandic is similar because the phrase for a beached whale.
Iceland started industrial whaling within the late nineteenth Century, later than most different nations, and struggled with the pressures towards it for a lot of many years.
Industrial whaling has been outlawed then reinstated a number of occasions resulting from points with inventory populations, worldwide strain, and native opinions.
Whereas whaling continues to at the present time, it’s a fixed debate inside the nation about whether or not it has a future.
What definitely does have a future, nonetheless, is whale watching. Excursions are leaving from ports all throughout the nation, with extremely excessive success charges and a various wealth of life to see.
Photograph by Jane Yeo
Seals have used Iceland’s shores as a spot to haul out, breed, and shed for millenniums. Its chilly, fertile waters, and lengthy stretches of rocky, uninhabited coast, allowed massive colonies to evolve earlier than people ever set foot right here.
Their numbers and lack of worry of people have been a blessing when settlers did arrive. Seals offered the individuals with important sources, from meals to clothes to grease, which helped make the stark new nation liveable.
Their populations have been dwindling closely by the twentieth Century when increasingly have been taken for trend relatively than necessity, however their numbers as we speak are comparatively steady.
Photograph by Einar Jonnson
Seals are nonetheless hunted sometimes in Iceland resulting from their injury to fishing gear and the way they cross ringworm to fish shares. Some are nonetheless hunted on non-public property for fur.
These practices have come beneath growing examination because the seal-watching trade has boomed, particularly for the reason that opening of the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi, devoted to researching these animals and elevating consciousness about their threats.
Two species of seal dwell on Iceland’s shores completely: the harbor seal and the gray seal.
They dwell throughout Iceland, however the most effective locations to reliably spot them are the Westfjords, the Vatnsnes Peninsular, the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, and the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
They aren’t the one species to frequent Icelandic waters, nonetheless. Harp, bearded, hooded, and ringed seals are all occasional guests, and even walruses are generally seen within the Westfjords.
Walruses used to have a big inhabitants right here however have been hunted to extinction within the seventeenth Century.
Puffins are thought-about uncommon and elusive birds in many of the world, however there’s a wealth of them in Iceland.
Their arrival in April and Could marks the start of summer time, and they are often simply seen up shut in lots of components of the nation till August.
Roughly sixty % of the world’s North Atlantic puffins breed in Iceland’s cliffs, and hundreds of thousands of nesting pairs exist.
These birds don’t wish to roost anyplace the place there will not be others of their species, so wherever you could find one, you’re more likely to see lots of extra.
Puffins may be appreciated by boat and by land. From Reykjavík’s Previous Harbor, it’s straightforward to jump on an hour-long tour to one of two islands, Lundy and Akurey, simply out within the bay, the place they nest within the 1000’s.
These vessels are sufficiently small to get near the rocky shores, and lots of excursions embrace binoculars so you’ll be able to see them much more clearly. Many whale-watching excursions additionally embrace a detour to those islands.
These touring to the Westfjords in summer time needn’t even board a ship to see puffins. The Látrabjarg cliffs, that are as much as 440 meters excessive and stretch for 14 kilometers, are spectacular in their very own proper, however the wealth of birdlife makes them awe-inspiring.
By strolling alongside the sting of this cliff, it’s attainable to get inside arm’s size of the nesting puffins. They don’t have any worry of individuals and can solely fly off if somebody tries to the touch them. At such proximity, the small print of their painted beaks and lovable expression are on clear show.
These will not be the one locations puffins nest, nonetheless. You will discover them in enormous populations across the Westman Islands, on the Dyrhólaey rock arch, within the East Fjords, and Grímsey Island within the North.
As is well-documented, Icelanders have fairly a penchant for uncommon meats. Subsequently, it’s the solely nation on the earth the place you’ll be able to spend the day watching puffins, then take pleasure in one for dinner.
Puffins are by far the most well-liked chicken in Iceland, however this little island has an unlimited wealth of avian life.
The cliffs of Látrabjarg within the Westfjords and Krýsuvíkurbjarg on the Reykjanes Peninsula are dwelling to 1000’s of people and many alternative species, akin to guillemots, fulmar, gulls, auks, sandpipers, and peewits.
You may as well discover Arctic terns and sea eagles across the coasts. There’s an equal quantity of variety in freshwater; Lake Mývatn alone is dwelling to 14 completely different duck species, in addition to geese and whooper swans.
Exterior of aquatic environments, there are much more species: gyrfalcons, golden plovers, snipes, and ptarmigans all name the island dwelling.
Nonetheless, no dialogue concerning the birds of Iceland could be full with out a point out of the raven. Whereas this is likely one of the world’s most generally unfold animals, they’re quite common right here and revered for his or her intelligence and significance to Icelandic folklore and pagan beliefs.
Photograph by Hans-Jurgen Mager
Opposite to the assumption of many, polar bears should not have a everlasting inhabitants in Iceland. Very sometimes, nonetheless, they arrive from Greenland on ice-floes and land within the Westfjords.
Sadly, after they arrive, they’re more likely to be ravenous, and as one of many few animals recognized to hunt people, pose a big menace to these residing within the area.
Contemplating this and the price of capturing, bringing to well being, and returning the polar bear to its dwelling (estimated at 75,000 Euros), they’re killed upon arrival.
The final polar bear seen in Iceland was in July of 2016. Because the local weather modifications and extra ice melts, it’s anticipated that increasingly will begin to arrive.
In simply over a millennium, Iceland has come a good distance from being a stark island with just one creature strolling its land.
Now, should you journey by way of any a part of the nation, you’ll at the very least see an enormous wealth of home life thriving within the harsh local weather. If you recognize the place to look, you’re more likely to discover rather more. From the good whales to the runaway rodents, Iceland’s animals and wildlife are ever shaping this nation’s character.
Whether or not you’re inquisitive about studying about Iceland’s wealthy number of wildlife or the most effective locations to identify the charming puffin, we hope this information has helped you. We’d love to listen to and reply to any feedback or questions you will have within the part under.