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FLORA AND FAUNA

Islands tend have a fairly limited variety of wildelife as a result of their isolation from large land masses. This is not the case in Crete which has an abundance of wildlife, particularly plants of which there are over 2,000 species. The only thing in short supply is trees. The stripping back of forests over successive centuries for the demands of shipbuilding has desecrated the tree population which has never recovered. This is due in large part to the islands goat population having an appetite for young tree shoots, thus preventing new growth. Despite its proximity to Africa the geology of Crete is similar to mainland Greece being part of the same range of partly submerged limestone mountains known as The Hellenic arc. This means that wildlife generally is similar to the rest of Europe .

FAUNA

KRIKRI

 Most Cretan mammals tend to be nocturnal, and on the small side. There are no foxes or wolves for example. This means your chances of encountering them are not especially good. The largest mammal on Crete is the Kri Kri, a wild mountain goat found only here on Crete and a couple of small satellite islands. Today it survives only in the area around the Samaria Gorge in the white mountains. A distinctive beast with impressive horns it was once to be found in large numbers all over the island. It was held as sacred in Minoan culture, and is still held in iconic regard as a symbol of Crete and vies with Zorba as the name of choice for tourist related commercial ventures.

cwc

Many of the common european mammals can be found here, but with Cretan variants unique to the island such as the Cretan badger, the Cretan weasel, the Cretan marten and the unusual Cretan prickly rat. The Cretan wildcat long thought to be extinct was rediscovered in 1996.

As one might expect in such a hot dry climate there are a variety of lizards and nocturnal geckoes, and quite rarely for Europe , chameleons. Other reptiles include four species of snake. The Cat snake is the only one that is poisonous, but it is rear fanged and therefore unlikely to be able to bite anything as large as a human. In any case the cat snake is nocturnal and in common with most snakes is fairly timid and is likely to withdraw at the sound of approaching footsteps.

The abruptly on and off sound of cicadas provides a soundtrack to any walk here as it does all around the Mediterranean . They are just one of a vast array of insect species that are to be found here. The more recogniseable ones include the praying mantis, the dung beetle, and several species of grasshoppers and crickets, as well as a good variety of colourful butterflies and moths.

Moving a step up the food chain, so to speak, come the birds. There are over three hundred species to be found here, including eagleseveral endemic species. The island is also an important stopping off point for migratory birds traveling from Africa to Europe and vice versa. Crete is a dry country with seasonal rivers and few lakes so waterfowl are not especially abundant, though there are a few coastal wetlands where you can find egrets and herons and other smaller wading birds. The mountains are the place to find what are widely regarded as the star attractions of the local bird population. It is here you will find the large birds of prey. Eagles, buzzards and vultures glide silently and effortless through the mountain peaks. Riding the rising thermal air currents with one eye cocked ever downward for the rustle of their next meal.

dolphins

In the seas around Crete besides the usual variety of Mediterranean marine life, it is occasionally possible to spot sperm whales and dolphins, the latter of which feature prominently in Minoan art. The islands beaches, particularly along the coast west of Chania are a breeding ground for the loggerhead turtle. Unfortunately they are increasingly threatened by tourist development, as the increasing presence of beach paraphenalia cause impediments to the newly hatched turtles making it to the safety of the sea.

FLORA

squillCrete has just short of 2,000 species of plants with almost 200 of those being endemic. This abundance and variety has made Crete something of a place of pilgrimage for flower enthusiasts. Summers here are hot and dry, rivers tend to be seasonal and there are few lakes. This absence of water forces a lot of plant life to "shutdown" for the summer months resurging into flower and growth with the coming of the autumn rains. Though some flowers will always be in evidence whatever the time of year, spring is undoubtedly the best time to witness the greatest number and variety of flowers, when the fruit trees blossom and the spring bulbs bloom.

Almond trees can flower as early as January and provide the first tangible signs of a new floral year begining, as their whiteplanetree blossoms litter the ground like a carpet of fresh snow. Anenomes and narcissi also bloom around this time. Variable weather can have some effect on timing but generally from mid February through March things reach something of a floral crescendo in the low lands, whilst the cooler mountain regions peak a little later, April through June. Throughout the hotter summer months a lot of plant activity slows to cope with the lack of rainfall, though oleander and osier will still bloom in the ravines where some moisture is still present. Similarly the gorges are home to many endemic species due to their mini eco systems. The coming of the autumn rains kickstarts a resurgence in growth and bloom, and the distinctive and prolific sea squill flowers at this time.

As previously mentioned trees are in short supply and largely confined to high and relatively inaccessible mountain pine forests, though there are several species of plane tree here. The "upside down", gravity defying branches of the plane tree feature all around the mediterranean and Crete is no exception. As well as the more usual deciduous trees there is a Cretan endemic evergreen variety. According to legend the privilege of retaining its leaves was granted by Zeus as thanks for its shade when he lay beneath it with Europa. Another notable Cretan endemic tree is the Cretan palm which grows uniquely along the beach at Vai.