Iceland is home to a variety of beautiful and unique wildlife, including some animals that are found nowhere else in the world. From majestic birds and whales to land mammals and sea creatures, Iceland’s wildlife offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Let’s take a look at some of the most fascinating animals that live in Iceland, including some that are under threat.
The Arctic fox is one of Iceland’s most iconic animals. While their name is insightful to the location of where they reside, Arctic foxes can be found outside of the Arctic Circle (Iceland). Arctic foxes inhabit the cold, snowy tundra biome in the northern hemisphere around the globe. The foxes are generally quite small, weighing no more than a few kilograms even in adulthood and often not reaching much more than a metre in length. Their tails account for much of this though at around 38 cm long. This comes in handy in the tough winter months when the mammals will wrap their bushy tails around them for warmth.
Arctic foxes thrive in the freezing temperatures of Iceland with thick, white (or grey or brown) fur to keep them warm. The colour of their fur changes with each shed to reflect the seasons. White-coated Arctic foxes are more likely to be spotted further north of Iceland so only a third of those on the island are fully white. Instead, the majority of the Arctic foxes in Iceland have grey and brown fur as this blends in with the terrain within which they hunt for most of the year.
The foxes are also adapted to the harsh climate by having a high amount of body fat. They will significantly up their food intake during the autumn months to pile on some more insulation for the winter. They can even increase their body mass by up to 50%!
Arctic foxes are Iceland’s only native mammals and are known for causing trouble among the locals! Tales of stolen chickens and rabbits are common among rural islanders and the foxes certainly love an easy meal. Arctic foxes that live further north in habitats shared with larger predators such as polar bears will often follow them and take advantage of the scraps which they leave behind. In this case, they can be found chowing down on something as large as a seal, but in Iceland, their diets consist mainly of smaller mammals. They have a love for voles, lemmings and mice.
The cute little creatures are thankfully not endangered at all. It is estimated that there are at least a few hundred thousand of them in the wild with 8,000 in Iceland alone. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is home to many of Iceland’s Arctic foxes and the location offers a great opportunity to spot them.
Everyone can picture a reindeer in their minds having grown in popularity pulling Father Christmas’ sleigh. They are well known to reside in the North Pole but are also a common sight in Iceland. Reindeer are largely found in the eastern and northeastern areas of the island. The huge mammals enjoy roaming high-altitude locations in the summer months but will migrate to grasslands closer to the coast in the winter.
Reindeer can reach up to 200 cm and a weight of 250 kg so you certainly wouldn’t want to get in their way. Their huge antlers should be enough to ward you off though. Both males and females grow antlers, unlike some other species of deer. Baby reindeer will begin to grow antlers within a few weeks of being born too. Reindeer are often mistaken for caribou but their smaller size makes them distinctly different.
Reindeer are semi-domesticated and have been bred in Iceland since the 17th century. They came from Norway, brought across the sea by travellers and were bred to be put to work.
To keep warm in the arctic temperatures, reindeer have two layers of thick fur. The outer layer of hair is air-filled. Trapped air within the reindeer’s hair is warmed and insulates its body. This layer of fur also helps reindeer be buoyant when crossing deep waters.
Reindeer hooves are also designed for Iceland’s harsh and changing climate. During the summer season, when the terrain is moist the hooves of the reindeer soften for better traction. In the winter, their hooves become hard and smaller, allowing the reindeer to cut through ice and snow.
Reindeer live in herds of up to several hundred and their diets consist of grass, moss, and lichens.
After a rapid decline in the number of reindeer with only around 100 left in 1939, the reindeer population in Iceland has begun to thrive again. It is estimated that there are 6000-7000 in the wild in Iceland. The majority of these reiside in the east of the island.
Iceland is a popular spot for whale watching. The island is home to a variety of whales, including Humpback, Minke, Fin, Sei and Pilot whales. These whales are some of the most majestic creatures in the ocean, and they are an important part of Iceland’s vibrant marine ecosystem.
These whales vary in size and appearance. Humpback whales are the largest of the species, and they are easily identified by their long pectoral fins and their distinctive hump on the back. Minke whales, the smallest of the species, have a white underside and a dark gray back. Fin whales have a tall, curved dorsal fin and a long, streamlined body. Sei whales are dark gray on top, and they have a white underside. Pilot whales have a tall, falcate dorsal fin and a short, stubby snout.
All of these whales can be found in the cold waters off the coast of Iceland. They are typically found in deep waters, and they tend to migrate to warmer waters during the winter months. They feed on a variety of prey, including small fish and krill.
Whales can be seen in a variety of locations around Iceland. They are most commonly spotted in the waters off the south and west coasts of the island. They can also be found in the fjords and bays of the north and east coasts.
These gentle giants feed on krill and small fish. Humpback whales will actively search for specific fish such as herring and anchovies.
Unfortunately, Humpback, Fin and Sei whales are all listed as endangered species. The Minke whale is listed as a species of least concern, while the Pilot whale is listed as near threatened. The population of these whales is slowly decreasing due to overfishing, pollution and climate change.
Sadly, while whaling is technically illegal in Iceland it still happens. The fisherman have used loopholes in the legislation to continue hunting and the population of whales has declined. The government has insisted on quotas for whaling to ensure the endangered whales do not become extinct.
Tourists have plenty of opportunities to see some of these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. There are plenty of boat tours and whale-watching expeditions available, to get up close and personal with these majestic animals.
Puffins are one of the most beloved of Iceland’s birds. They are very social birds, and can often be seen diving into the water and flying in large groups.
The vibrant appearance of puffins makes them easy to spot. With their bright, colorful bills and striking plumage, these seabirds make for a beautiful sight in the wild. Puffins are found along the coasts of Iceland. They prefer cold temperate seas, and are usually spotted near rocky cliffs or islands. During the breeding season, they often make their home in underground burrows. Puffins can be seen in many places in Iceland, from the coasts to the interior. They are especially common on the Westman Islands. Here, they can be seen in large colonies, or “rafts”, of hundreds of birds.
Puffins have sharp beaks, which they use to catch small fish from the ocean. They also eat squid, crustaceans, and other marine creatures.
The beautiful birds are celebrated across the island with plenty of tourist shops taking advantage of them with puffin souvenirs. The love of puffins from tourists has led many people to believe that the puffin is Iceland’s national bird but it is not. Instead, it is the gyrfalcon – a huge, majestic bird of prey.
Unfortunately, the puffin population in Iceland is in danger. Overfishing, pollution, and climate change are all contributing to their decline. To help the puffins, Iceland has put in place measures to protect their habitat and food sources. With continued conservation efforts, Iceland’s puffin population will begin to increase and continue to provide a stunning spectacle on the coasts for tourists and locals alike.
The Arctic hare is a unique species of hare that resides in Iceland. These snow-white hares are a beloved part of the Icelandic landscape, and they are a sight to behold.
Arctic hares are well adapted to their environment, and they have white fur to blend in with their natural surroundings. They have short ears and long hind legs which allow them to move quickly across the tundra environment. The Arctic hare is one of the largest of all hare species. The largest hares can weigh up to 7 kg and when stretched out can be a length of 70 cm.
To blend in with the surroundings, they are white with a slight grayish tinge, and have long, thick fur to keep them warm in the cold climate.
Arctic hares, like their name suggests, can be found in the Arctic tundra of Iceland, where they live in burrows or rock crevices. They feed mostly on plant material, such as grasses and lichens, as well as bark from trees. They also eat insects, arctic foxes, and other small animals.
Arctic hares are not endangered, but they are threatened by habitat loss and climate change. Increasing temperatures in the Arctic region are causing their habitat to shrink, and their food sources are becoming scarce.
Overall, Iceland is home to a variety of fascinating wildlife that is sure to captivate and inspire visitors from around the world. From majestic whales to fluffy Arctic hares, the wildlife of Iceland is truly unique and provides visitors and locals with beautiful spectacles and landscapes.