Wednesday 25 May 2016

Why Tenerife is a paradise for naturalists

Tenerife is a naturalist’s dream
Tenerife forested mountains
Tenerife is a popular island in the Canary Islands for tourists who spend their holidays there but it is also every naturalist’s dream. With its forests, mountains, semi-desert areas, cliffs, sand dunes and range of beaches there is a real diversity of habitats. There are so many types of countryside on the island, and also a range of very different microclimates. This is why so many forms of flora and fauna can be found there, both endemic species and introduced and naturalised plants and animals.
Laurel Pigeon (Photo: DrPhilipLehmann)
There are two main sorts of forests: pine forest and ancient evergreen laurel forest. The latter of these is very important because the patches of this type of woodland that still stand on Tenerife and some of the other Canary Islands are some of the only remaining stretches of this form of forest in the world. Rare birds, such as the laurel pigeon (Columba junoniae) and endemic plants like the Canary Islands foxglove (Isoplexis canariensis) can be found in the laurel forests.

Viper's Bugloss species

Red Bugloss
Tenerife has a very great range of species in the Echium genus of viper’s bugloss. The most spectacular species is the red bugloss or Teide bugloss (Echium wildpretii), which as its name suggests has red flowers that form in tall spikes, and it is found growing high on Mt Teide where there is a very extreme habitat. Because it is so high the sunlight is very strong but it gets very cold at night. The ground is dry and rocky and it looks like another planet in the Tenerife highlands.
There is a shortage of naturally occurring freshwater in Tenerife because it drains quickly into the ground and down to the sea after it rains but this has not prevented a fascinating selection of freshwater creatures and water birds being found on the island. Many species of dragonfly, two species of frog and the mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis) mainly depend on the reservoirs and irrigation tanks used by farmers for collecting water for their crops. The frogs, by the way, are the Mediterranean tree-frog (Hyla meridionalis), and the Iberian water frog (Rana perezii). In the village of Erjos, however, there are some large ponds that formed after the topsoil was removed many years ago. These pools attracted all sorts of wildlife and make a wonderful area for appreciating nature and walking in the surrounding hills and forests. 
Grey Heron
The grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is a bird that uses natural and artificial freshwater pools to search for fish and frogs and is often seen on the island. It will also take goldfish from ornamental ponds in parks and gardens.
Tenerife has lizard species, two types of gecko and a skink but no snakes, despite having excellent habitats for these reptiles.
Monarch butterfly
There are many interesting insects to be found on the island. A butterfly to look out for is the monarch (Danaus plexippus). It was able to colonise the Canary Islands because the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is often grown in gardens, flower borders and parks. This large and beautiful butterfly can be seen flying all year round and is most often seen in cities, towns and resorts where its caterpillar’s food-plant grows in gardens. The massive and strange looking death’s head hawk moth and its larva are often found on Tenerife. This moth gets its name due to the skull-like marking on its thorax. The fact that it can squeak too has added to its weirdness and has made it the subject of various superstitions. The caterpillars are very big and feed mostly on thorn-apple (Datura stramonium), which is a very common weed on the island, and also on the shrub Lantana (Lantana camara).  There are also some species of praying mantis that can be found on Tenerife.
Botanists will be excited by the very large number of succulents that grow wild on Tenerife. There are many endemic species of Aeonium and Euphorbia. The Canary Island spurge (Euphorbia canariensis) looks more like a cactus and grows in large clumps on arid and rocky ground around the island.

Look out too for the prehistoric-looking dragon trees (Dracaena draco), which can still be found occasionally growing wild but are very rare. They are much more commonly seen in parks and gardens around Tenerife, and there is the famous “Drago Milenario,” said to be 1,000-years-old that is in its own park in Icod de los Vinos.

If you are interested in wildlife you will find plenty to interest you wherever you are on the island.