When you think about traveling to Greece, what pops into your head first? The rich culture and history, beaches, island living, the food and wine? Definitely not the wildlife in Greece?
I bet you didn’t think: the place with the highest biodiversity in all of Europe. That’s right; Greece has so much more to offer on top of its stunning history and breath-taking coastal areas! There are over 900 different species of wildlife and over 5,000 species of flora within its borders.
So how about you plan your next wildlife encounter to be in Greece? Here we have the list of all the land and ocean wildlife in Greece that you should see while you are there, as well as the best local tourism operators.
Follow along the blog or click the headings to skip to the part that interests you:
“Greece is the country of diversity… Zeus must have hit this area with his hammer, splashing thousand islands in the sea and tearing the mainland into pieces so that the country’s coastline became as long as the one of the whole continent of Africa. This physical multiplicity is increased by a wide gradient of climates, ranging from almost subtropical to truly alpine conditions, as well as by a variety of mountains, hills, and plains, many of which scattered with wetlands. No wonder these conditions have produced an exceptionally rich living nature, in fact the highest biodiversity known in Europe.”Dr Luc Hoffmann (1923-2016) Co-founder of WWF
More about Greece
Greece occupies the southernmost extension of the Balkan Peninsula of southern Europe.
It has an extensive coastline (exceeding 15,000 km in length) along the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, and is largely mountainous. The Greek mainland accounts for 80% of the land area, with the remaining 20% divided among nearly 3000 islands.
Much of the country experiences a Mediterranean climate (hot, dry summers and winter rainfall), especially the islands. Higher regions of the western and central parts of the country, and the mountainous parts of the Peloponnese, experience an Alpine climate.
Snow falls on high mountain tops in winter months, particularly on the northern side of the country (Epirus and Macedonia). It rarely snows on the Greek islands, except for the island of Crete that sees snowfalls on the top of the White Mountains and Mount Psiloritis. The climate is very varied across the country – snow may still be lying near the peaks in June while the lowlands are experiencing high temperatures.
As mentioned before, Greece is one of the richest countries of the European Union in terms of biodiversity. Its diverse geological features – ranging from high mountains to the deepest waters of the Mediterranean – combined with a variable climate generates a great range of habitat niches to suit a spectacularly diverse collection of wildlife in Greece.
In terms of fauna there are 115 mammal species (12 of those are marine mammals), 446 bird species, 22 amphibian and 64 reptile species. Some 162 freshwater and 476 marine fish species are also hosted in Greece’s waters. With 30,000-50,000 invertebrates also being present, exhibiting a very high degree of endemism.
In terms of the wildlife in Greece – Greece is host to some of Europe’s largest and scariest animals both on land and in the sea.
What do animals represent in ancient greece?
In the literature of ancient Greece, animals are used to represent all things that do not belong to civil society or to the Greek community: slaves, women, and foreign peoples (barbaroi). Symbolically, animals are often placed outside the country.
Over Greece’s extensive history, a multitude of new plants have been introduced to the country and have become a recognized part of Greece’s landscape. Many of these plants have become deeply rooted in Greek mythology.
Greece hosts the highest number of endemics in Europe (approximately 1450 endemic taxa). This mountainous country is the fourth largest country in Europe with respect to forest resources, with 25% of Greece covered in natural forested areas. Intensive land use has reduced these forests to remnants, and only 2,5% of Greek territory is established as protected areas. This seems a rather low percentage and I am sure there are many different definitions as to what a protected area is. NATURA2000 areas of Greece are 19% of the country, for example.
Many of the flowers that grow in Greece’s countryside are connected to Greek folklore and history. The hyacinth flower, which clings to Greece’s rockier areas, was created by the blood of Hyacinthus, a lover of Apollo, a Greek god. Daffodils – which thrive in rocky, arid areas – are seen as symbols of Hades, the god of the underworld and death.
The wildlife in Greece is not just limited to animals on land and in the ocean. With its varied topography and habitats, Greece has a rich bird fauna. Beside the resident bird populations, many migratory species visit the country as they move seasonally between their breeding grounds and their overwintering areas.
About 450 species of bird have been recorded in Greece. The Dadia Forest in the northeast is an important area for birds of prey, where four species of vulture have been recorded. The Pilgrim Falcon and the Upupa Epops birds inhabit the mountainous and forested areas. As an additional info: The Pilgrim Falcon and the Upupa Epops in the English language are called Peregrine Falcon and Hoopoe. The Minerva Owl is called Little Owl in English.
Birds are also featured in Greek mythology. The Minerva owl is considered a symbol of Athena, who had the city of Athens dedicated to her, and it is also depicted on the 1 Euro coin.
Animals in Greece: On land
Due to its location in the Mediterranean Basin, Greece has a wide variety of fauna and flora, in the sea as well as on land. Here is a small selection of the animals that live in greece.
Greece conjures up images of Mediterranean coastlines, serene sun and sandy beaches for most. But lost in that island stereotype is a whole other side of the country that tourists often forget exists – the side full of rugged mountains, wide expanses of black pine, beech and oak forests and a notable population of brown bears.
It’s estimated that there are currently around 700 brown bears living in Greece, largely split between the Rodopis Mountains and the Pindos Mountain Range. The majority of the Greek bear population lives in the Pindos Mountains.
Endangered animals in Greece: Brown bear conservation
Like many places in Europe, Greece historically had a thriving bear population before numbers dwindled due to poaching and loss of habitat. But an NGO, Callisto, is working to preserve and grow the remaining bear population.
For the past five years, Callisto has been offering intrepid travelers the chance to track brown bears in the Pindos Mountains, and using tourism as a tool for conservation in the process. Each hike explores truly remote trails in the Pindos Mountains and, led by a bear expert, includes a donation to Callisto.
“We are mostly promoting contact with the whole area – this sensation of the mountains, of the living creatures inside the mountains, and giving guests a perception of the relationship between the local people and nature. You get a lot of local, cultural contact.”
- These bears are the largest carnivorous mammal in mainland Europe.
- Greece has a rich history with bears – Ancient Greeks even saw them in the stars. The mythology goes that Callisto, the daughter of King Lycaeon of Arcadia, was cursed to live as a bear by the God of Hunting, Artemis. She was later placed in the skies by Zeus and remains visible to humans now; as the bear constellation Ursa Major.
This might just be the most elusive of all wildlife in Greece to encounter: a lynx!
The Eurasian Lynx has a short body, long legs and large feet. Its ears have a distinctive black tuft at its tip its coat is long and very dense. They are solitary creatures, as are most cats. Sometimes they are very quiet, other times they mew, hiss, purr and chatter (like a domestic cat. They are known to produce an unusual variety of vocalizations during their mating season; growls, grunts, coughs and caterwauling.
According to the IUCN Red List, Eurasian lynxes’ numbers are stable today and they are classified as Least Concern. Habitat loss as a result of deforestation, loss of prey due to illegal hunting, and game hunting and trapping for fur are the primary threats to this species.
- The Eurasian lynx is Europe’s third largest predator after brown bears and wolves, and is the biggest of the species of lynx.
- The word “lynx” is thought to come from Greek mythology where Lynceus was said to be so keen sighted that he was able to see through the earth. Lynxes have extremely good eyesight and might be named after him.
- A group of lynx can be called a destruction, clowder, clutter or a pounce of Lynx!
Wolves once existed throughout much of Europe but conflicts with humans and fears originating from religious beliefs, myths and folklore led to humans persecuting wolves for hundreds of years.
Though they almost never attack humans, wolves are considered one of the animal world’s most fearsome natural villains. They do attack domestic animals, and countless wolves have been shot, trapped, and poisoned because of this tendency.
The Greek wolf population is estimated at approximately 500-700 individuals with about 10 wolf packs with minimum 50 individuals in each pack.
- The wolf plays an important role in Greek religions, but their roles vary enormously. The wolf is often related to the Greek gods Zeus, Apollo, Artemis and Letp; and they also seem to act as divine messengers of the gods, notably of Apollo.
- Wolves are legendary because of their spine-tingling howl, which they use to communicate. A lone wolf howls to attract the attention of his pack, while communal howls may send territorial messages from one pack to another.
WWF refers to the Golden Jackal as “a shy and misunderstood resident of the Greek countryside”: up until 1990, jackals were classified as a harmful species, and, as a result, dozens of them were killed each year.
The Golden Jackal is still a widespread species that is fairly common throughout most of its range. Its tolerance of different habitats, and omnivorous, opportunistic diet means that it can live in a wide variety of areas. They do, however, face human-wildlife conflict where they roam onto farmland and are likely to be trapped, poisoned or shot.
These beautiful jackals are called “nature’s cleaners” since they prey on rodents and comb their territories for organic residue and waste (fallen fruit, carrions, etc.).
Golden jackals use a wide inventory of howls to locate one another. By howling together, a pair shows that there is a bond between them, and thus the choral howling can be considered a kind of betrothal.
- The golden jackal likes it dry – so you can find them mostly in deserts, open savannas and arid grasslands.
- Each jackal family has their own yipping sound that only members of their own family respond to.
- Golden jackals live in mated pairs and are strictly monogamous.
Animals to see in the ocean
Greece is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and has thousands of islands within its borders.
This area has a very rich marine life: the open waters are frequented by some of the most important populations of aquatic mammals in the Mediterranean including whales, dolphins and seals. This is the perfect place for boat or diving expeditions!
Various mammals reside in the clean, blue waters of the Greek Sea, some of which are on the verge of extinction. The endangered marine life of Greece is protected by some non-governmental organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and Archelon. Seals, Dolphins, Whales and Sea Turtles are included among these stunning marine animals.
Here is a list of some of the unique ocean wildlife in Greece that you will be able to see off the coast of Greece’s beautiful beaches:
The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is an earless seal of the tribe Monachini. They are the only earless seals found in tropical climates.
They are more than just another species of the marine environment; being an integral part of the past, present and future of the Greek seas. In fact, it is in Greece where roughly half of the monk seal’s global population, 250 to 300 individuals, lives and breeds.
Monk seals were, according to the ancient Greeks, sacred animals, protected by Poseidon and Apollo. But, unfortunately, this unique species is one of the most threatened animals on the planet. According to The Red Data Book of Threatened Animals of Greece, the Mediterranean monk seal faces an extremely high risk of extinction from its natural environment in the immediate future and is classified as critically endangered.
The seals are threatened by human disturbance of their coastal habitats, disease, and continued hunting. By the 1990s there were only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals and 300 to 600 Mediterranean monk seals still alive.
Quick fact: The monk seal’s name
In 1779 a naturalist called Johann Hermann published the first modern scientific description of the animal we call the Monk seal. Hermann suggested naming the animal Münchs-Robbe, because he vaguely remembered a paper describing an animal known locally as moine in Marseille, which he concluded must be this same species. He was also reassured by contacts who had lived in Marseille that the animal was indeed called moine there.
Hermann wryly noted the monkish resemblance of the seal (the shape of the head and scapula-like shoulders) as the seal arched up on the pool edge. So, he judged it a well-suited name, and saw no reason to change it. In the History of Quadrupeds Hermann’s writings were mistranslated from German to explain that “the skin of the neck [of the monk seal] folds like a monk’s hood.” Thus, the name stuck.
Loggerhead turtles, also known as Caretta turtles, are common in Greece. If you want to encounter one of these emblematic creatures, make sure you have the following beaches on your list: Zakynthos, Kyparissia, Lakonikos, Rethymno, Chania, Messenia, and Koroni. These are the seven biggest egg-laying destinations for Loggerheads.
During the nesting season (late May to August) you can observe sea turtles in their natural habitat during the daytime. Be careful to make sure that you leave the beaches before night time to give the turtles space to nest. Late in July the hatchlings will appear. During this time beach-goers should not interfere with the baby turtles. Tourists should stay away from and not try to lift the turtles and carry them to the sea because this first journey is supposed to strengthen their bodies. Do not pour water on them either because it may confuse them.
- Another living fossil – loggerhead turtles are the living relatives of a group of reptiles that have lived on Earth and travelled our seas for the last 100 million years.
- They are named for their large heads that support powerful jaw muscles, allowing them to crush hard-shelled prey like clams and sea urchins.
- If they manage to escape their natural enemies as well as human-generated threats and influences, loggerhead sea turtles live for up to 100 years.
- The sex of Loggerhead hatchlings is determined by nest temperature: hot temperatures result in more females, and cool temperatures result in more males.
The ocean wildlife in Greece can look quite intimidating. The word shark sets off alarm bells in most people’s heads – it’s a primal reaction to an image etched into our minds of furious jaws lined with row upon row of teeth.
The basking shark, however, is not a creature out of a horror movie, nor is it an animal with the capacity for terrorising small fishing villages. In fact, the scariest thing about this animal is the fact that shark is in its name!
A basking shark is a harmless plankton-eating fish. Its slow movements, large size and docile nature make it appear more like a whale than any form of man-eating shark. They are easy to spot, thanks to their dorsal fins and love of surface-dwelling plankton.
Diving or snorkeling with a basking shark is an incredible one in a lifetime experience. Found all over the Greek Islands, although easiest to locate off the coast of Rhodes in the summer months. These gentle giants are a must see for any wildlife enthusiast visiting the islands!
- The most impressive feature of the basking shark is its mouth, which opens up to 3 feet wide.
- Although it has hundreds of small teeth, the basking shark does not use them when feeding; instead, it usually swims with its mouth open and catches whatever plankton is filtered through.
- These sharks are quite social, with schools sometimes containing up to 100 individuals.
Where to go in Greece:
With its beautiful beaches, picturesque islands covered in whitewashed buildings and age-old monuments, Greece is a dreamy summer destination. But many visitors aren’t aware that the country boasts vibrant wildlife and has among the richest biodiversity in Europe.
If you are a nature lover and you want to see the wildlife in Greece mentioned earlier in this article, there read below to see the locations you should visit:
1. National Park of Mountain Pindos
One of the rare places in Greece where wild bears roam free, the Pindos National Park, located in the northwest of the country, features dense forests and high mountains, the habitat of choice for bears and wolves. Groups of red deer have also been spotted in the wilderness of the park, which includes several trails which visitors can explore during their holidays.
2. Nestos Delta
Located in northern Greece, close to Thassos Island, the Nestos Delta and its surrounding lagoons are home to rare mammals such as wild otters, jackals, and boar. The region is the home for many wild animals in Greece, and it is among the most famous destination for nature lovers – especially the birdwatchers.
Zakynthos is home to one of the most important nesting habitats in Europe for the loggerhead sea turtle (scientifically and also locally known as Caretta caretta). The turtles are most commonly found in the Bay of Laganas and the Strophadia Islands (40 miles south of Zakynthos).
While the beaches are not open to the public after dark, you may have the chance to see turtles while on a boat tour or during your scuba diving session.
Greece’s first marine park is one of the largest marine protected areas in Europe. As such, Alonissos Marine Park, located in the Sporades islands, is a must-see if you are passionate about marine life.
You might get the chance to spot the Mediterranean monk seal, an endangered marine species which populates the islands of Gioura and Piperi. Alonissos Marine Park is also a good place to spot dolphins: take a boat trip around the islands for a chance to see them swim and jump out of the water.
5. Prespa Lakes
The Prespa Lakes, also known as the Prespa National Park, is located in the northern part of the country. Home to diverse fauna and flora, this birdwatching destination is the ideal location to spot over 200 aquatic bird species.
Ducks, white and Red pelicans, cormorants, geese, and herons are only a few of the exciting creatures you can observe in Prespa Lakes, the natural heaven where nature and man live in harmony.
In late May every year, Rhodes welcomes thousands of butterflies, congregating in fluttering clouds of scarlet wings that cluster between the trees. They are attracted to the aptly-named Valley of the Butterflies by the high humidity and tempting scent of the park’s zitia trees – and they stay all summer, sheltering in the cool.
The Valley of butterflies is one of the most famous attractions of the island, besides the ancient sites. It is a spectacular green haven abounding in flora and trees where butterflies come every year to breed.
7. Kerkini Lake
Not every European lake can boast a population of wallowing water buffaloes – but beautiful Lake Kerkini in northern Greece can. The lake and the protected surrounding wetlands are home to hundreds of these horned beasts. It’s a distinctly Serengeti-esque sight, best enjoyed on a boat trip through the mirror-like lake.
Keep an eye out for the bird life, too: over 300 protected species nest and breed here, including flamingos, pelicans, eagle owls and masked shrikes. The birdwatching is spectacular year-round, although we’d recommend spring and autumn for long, dry days and soft sunlight that’s perfect for wildlife photography.
8. Samaria Gorge
Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete is recognized as one of the biggest canyons in Europe, and its intrinsic excellence is incredible. Crete, the largest island of the nation, is the natural habitat for many endemic species, including a rare species of goat called the kri-kri. The island is also home to the Cretan badger, and many plant species including anemones, daffodils, and cyclamen. If you feel like exploring the majestic gorge, keep your eyes open as you hike your way through the rocks.
Located in the heart of Greece, the region of Evrytania is a natural breeding ground for wolves and foxes, and wild deer, and even wild cats have been spotted here. Blessed with a rich ecosystem, Evrytania is also home to wild boar, who are now benefitting from a hunting ban.
10. Evros Delta and Dadia Forest
Uppermost wildlife destinations in a nearby range to Alexandroupoli are Evros Delta and Dadia Forest. Dadia Forest is a national park with 36 species of birds of prey, 166 bird species, wild apple trees, and rare orchids. The Evros Delta is ecological heaven, where you can visit for boating. The adventure of viewing the flamingos reflected on the covering of the lagoon is simply extraordinary.
Operators to contact:
From shark spotting to bear encounters, Greece’s national parks offer incredible wildlife encounters galore. We’ve tracked down the best operators to contact if you want to have your next wildlife in Greece adventure:
Natural Greece has been offering expert-led Eco & Wildlife Holidays all over Greece, delighting customers worldwide, since 2013.
Their tours include bird watching and botanical tours, bear tracking holidays, marine eco-adventures to the most spectacular regions of Greece. Travel experiences are led by the best local guides that possess vast conservation knowledge in their field. Explore the real Greece, far away from the crowds. Nature tours are enriched with yummy Greek food, cultural experiences and fun activities. Traveling with local guides will really make a difference when you want to know where to spot the wildlife in Greece!
Other operators to contact:
As mentioned before, Greece is one of the richest countries of the European Union in terms of biodiversity. There are over 900 different species of wildlife and over 5,000 species of flora within its borders.
This country is also host to some of Europe’s largest and scariest animals – both on land and in the sea! Natural Greece, Greeka andDeep Blue Yachting are great operators to contact if you want to encounter some of the amazing wildlife in Greece.