Flora and fauna

Flora

There are some 2,500 species of trees, plants and flowers in the Pyrenees, of which 200 are commonly found.

In the western Pyrenees, the abundant rain or snow gives the vegetation the feel of Central Europe. The eastern Pyrenees, which are much more arid, are Mediterranean in character.

June and July are the best months to enjoy the pastures and mountain-sides carpeted with the greatest variety of plants and wildflowers.

The tree line up to 1,000m comprises of maples, hornbeams, oaks and sweet chestnuts. Between 1,000m and 1,800m the species are mainly Scots pines, beech, silver firs, birch and poplars. Beyond the 1,800m mark up to 2,400m, black pines (mugo pine) are the most dominant species.

Many species of Saxifrages are endemic to the Pyrenees, as is the Pyrenean iris, the blue thistle and the ramonda, which finds its specific habitat here

While out walking in the Pyrenees, keep a lookout for:

Trumpet gentian (gentian Kochiana); a perennial plant with blue flowers native to central and southern areas.

Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia); thrives in wetlands. It is claimed that the plant has anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic properties.

Pyrenean buttercup (ranunculus pyrenaeus); often forms large meadows and flowers early.

Rose Daphne (Daphne aeorum); flowers in late spring and early summer at 2,500m. It is named for its rose-like sweet smell.

Fauna

With its national parks, nature reserves and large expanses of wilderness, The Pyrenees has become a haven for many species of small and large animals, insects and birds, where they continue to thrive.

The following species are endemic in the Pyrenees:

  • The Pyrenean Desman
  • The Pyrenean euprocte (euproctus pyrenaicus) a relative of the salamander
  • Blind insects living in the caverns of Ariege
  • Red squirrels (sciurus vulgaris) can be found in all wooded areas
  • The alpine marmot (marmot marmot) disappeared after the last glacial age but has been successfully reintroduced in modern times.
  • The last Pyrenean brown bear, the smallest of the bear family, died out in the 1980s but the brown bear was reintroduced successfully in 1996.
  • The nocturnal and nomadic wild boar (sus scrofa) is unpopular with farmers for their destructive habits and is still hunted.
  • Pine marten (martes martes) found in coniferous and mixed woodland
  • The Pyrenean Chamois (rupricapra pyrenaica) or isard

The isard is also the emblem of the Pyrenees. Signs bearing a red isard’s head on white background mark the entrance of the Pyrenees National Park.

When you’re out exploring, you may also be lucky enough to spot red fox, otter, stoat, weasel and badger.

Desman
The desman is a small aquatic mammal that only comes out under the cover of darkness. It inhabits streams and rivers. The Desman was once thought to be widespread across mountain ranges in France, Spain and Portugal. But its last stronghold is now Catalonia’s Alt Natural Park. It is the very last in its evolutionary line, the only other specimen remaining is the Russian desman.

The Desman is part rat, part mole, part platypus. It is the size of a hamster with a glossy grey coat. It has a huge nose that is a miniature version of an elephant trunk, framed with long whiskers and beady eyes. The front paws are tiny, the back feet huge and webbed. It has a scaly tail.

Despite its reputation, it is not aggressive, but rather solitary and territorial. It feeds on small invertebrate. Scientists are now studying it with interest to prevent its extinction.

Other fauna
In the meadows there are scores of different types of butterflies to spot during the summer months.

The skies are dotted with different types of vultures, including the rare bearded vulture, Griffon vultures (gyps fulvus), and the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). You can also find the Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), which nearly became extinct in Europe in 1992. The Pyrenees is its more northern habitat.

While walking in the Pyrenees, lizards can often be spotted. The fire salamander and the Pyrenean brook salamander or Pyrenean newt has now been spotted 20km from Carcassonne. The only venomous reptile in the Pyrenees is the Asp viper (Vipera spis).

The location of the Pyrenees between two seas, its geological structure and the climatic asymmetries result in a rich mosaic of vegetation types. Five vegetation types have been described: sub-Mediterranean, collinean, montane, subalpine and alpine.

There is a rich plant diversity (3,500 species and subspecies) and endemism (5%). The site supports many wildlife species typical of the Pyrenees. Mammals include the marmot and ungulates such as the Spanish ibex, of which there are only three female individuals. The insectivorous Pyrenean desman occurs in lowland elevation. The avifauna, reptiles, amphibious species and coleoptera are very rich.