A Peek at Italy's Flora and Fauna
A Small Country
Italy is a small country, which juts out from mainland Europe as a peninsula. One coast is on the Mediterranean and the the other on the Adriatic Sea. Despite it size it has a hugely diverse environment and ecology, ranging from the coasts on both seas to the plains below the ranges of mountains that are basically the spine of this country.
What has to be taken in to consideration as well is that a lot of Europe was left decimated after WWII, Italy being particularly badly damaged, and so the return of so much of natures beauties here, and its Flora and Fauna is a tribute to the hard work of Conservationists. This work is still ongoing and we must also never forget the strength of "Mother Nature" herself.
Hoopea (Upupa epops)
This lovely bird is one of my favourites and I have woken up many times when I lived in the mountains in Le Marches region of Italy to hear it calling and to see it sitting on the branch of a big Oak tree which was just outside my window.
They are actually found right across Afro-Eurasia, and are very noticeable because of their crown of feathers and bright and beautiful plumage. They are the only extant species of the family Upupidae. Their English name is in fact an onomatopoetic form and imitates this birds call.......Oop-oop-oop.They are migratory during the cold winter months seeking the heat of the tropics or warmer climes in Southern Europe. They favour bare or lightly vegetated habitats, hence living at quite high altitudes with ease, and like to make their nests in cavities of trees, cliffs, in haystacks and even abandoned burrows.
Medium in size they reach from head to tail 25-32cm and have a wingspan of 44-48cm. In weight they can reach 89grams. They have a tapering bill with is black on top and has a fawn base and this can and is sometimes used to stab opponents who come onto its territory.The Hoopea's diet consists of insects,small reptiles,frogs , seeds and berries.
They are monogamous, but this generally only lasts for one season. Their eggs when laid are round and a milky-blue with up to 12 in a clutch.When this bird sunbathes it does so by spreading its wings out onto the ground, wings which enable it to fly like a giant butterfly.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).
The Golden Eagle is one of the great birds of the Raptor family and in Italy inhabits mostly high altitude mountain ranges, although in Northern Europe can also be seen living on lower ground.
It has a need for large territories and this is because of finding prey and also where it can have enough room to be left in peace from human intervention and disturbances. The Golden Eagle truly appreciates privacy, especially when nesting and rearing its young. The habitat it chooses is the open countryside or high forests in Italy and here it will build its nests in either the large trees or in the cliffs which rear up from the lowland hills up into the mountains. Golden Eagles are monogamous and will stay with one mate for life unless one of the pair dies. The female actually grows bigger and heavier than the male reaching weights of 66 kgs. Both birds have a large wingspan, 190-230cm and these great wings carry them up into the high thermals where they will soar and glide while looking for prey or sometimes fighting over territory.
Their diet consists of medium sized mammals such as the Alpine Marmot, hares, rabbits and foxes(even adult ones) and Chamois. It does this by pushing them off cliff ledges where they may be perching. They cannot carry the carcass back to the nest so will eat it in situ, and carry any remainder back to waiting chicks and mate.
Burnt Tip/ Burnt Orchid (was Orchis ustulata now known as Neotinea ustulata)
This orchid is happy in short grasslands which are at high altitude and have alkaline soils. It is terrestrial and flowers between April and August depending on the altitude.
The Burnt Tip grows to 10-50 cm in height and will have around 80 flowers per spike. The name derives from the fact that the unopened buds are darkly coloured and remain like that at the tip.
Military Orchid (Orchis militaris)
Another of many beautiful wild flowers that grow in parts of the Italian countryside and at high altitudes. This Orchid is around 20-50cm tall with a robust stem and oblong leaves and flowers from April-June. (This I can confirm as I was fortunate enough not only to see both Orchids when I went walking in the Mountain where I lived each day, but also had them in the garden.)
They will grow as high as 2000m in altitude and like open meadows, edges of mountain roads and lightly wooded areas. However they are rare on the Mediterranean side of Italy. The Military Orchid is quite special , it contains polysaccharide glucomannan in its roots and is one of the original species of Orchid tto have them ground up and used to make the drink salep. (This is in fact a flour which is used in drinks and desserts).
Trumpet Gentian (Gentiana acaulis)
This lovely , showy flower blooms in late spring and early summer. It thrives in the Alpine and mountain climates and is happy growing in acidic soils. Its flowers are as the name suggests...Trumpet shaped and are of a rich to dark navy blue with a darker blue and green striped throat.
They have very short stems, sometimes almost non-existent, which are just above a spreading foliage of smooth evergreen leaves. this is a hardy plant which it needs to be as the weather in mountainous areas can change very quickly.
European Alpine Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra ornata)
The Chamois is one of the Goat-Antelope species (some sub-species are strictly protected in Eu under European Habitats Directive) , and here they inhabit relatively high altitudes.
When fully grown they will be 30ins and can weigh up to 66lbs. Both males and females have short-straightish horns which are hooked backwards at the tips. They have a lovely rich -brown summer coat which changes to a thicker light-grey coat in the winter. Their faces are white with black stripes below the eyes. They have whites rumps (bottoms) and a black stripe which runs along the spine.
Chamois have been known to reach 20 years of age in the wild. The Females and young live in herds, whilst the male spends most of the year alone. However during the rut, which , in Europe, is from late November to early December the males get together. This is for the sole reason of having ferocious battles to decide who gets which female. Pregnancy lasts for 20 wks and then a single kid is born. These are fully-grown at 1 years old, and then the young males will leave the herd to lead a solitary bachelor existent until they are strong enough to fight for a female of their own.
Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex stambecco)
The Alpine Ibex is a species of Wild Goat. Once restricted to the Gran Paradiso National Park in Northern Italy they have now successfully recolonized most of the European Alps.
Unlike other Ibex the Alpine Ibex has a short, broad head and is a dull brownish-grey in colour with slightly darker markings on the chin and throat, a stripe along the back and a pale abdomen. As in all goats the male has the beard. They moult twice a year, April to May and then again in September when they replace their short summer coat is replaced with thicker hair and a woolly undercoat.
The males are somewhat bigger than the females as are the males horns. Both male and female grow a set of large ridged backward curving horns, but the males are considerably longer and fatter.
There are four distinct groups with the Ibex herds and these are made up of adult males, females and their dependant offspring, young individuals of 2-3 yrs old and a mixed sex group. Breeding starts in December and this lasts for around 6 weeks. The Ibex do not actually reach sexual maturity until 18 months of age and even then they are not fully grown. But it is good to know that these remarkably agile animals can reach ages of up to 19yrs old and that they are thriving.