Cretan Nature

Cretan Nature
Cretan nature and ecology is diverse. Both the animals and plants of Kriti are unique and well worth exploring. The mountainous terrain in Crete ensures the survival of some very special birds and plant species. Marine life is also rich and varied.
The landscapes, shapes and ecology of the island are influenced by the main activities of agriculture and tourism; however there are protected areas and plenty of wide open spaces where nature lovers can discover the hidden treasures of Kríti.

Heavy snow on the mountains in winter brings life to the streams and creeks in spring, and an abundance of spring flowers beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Oleander flowers Crete Kriti


The mountain herbs, such as sage, thyme and majoram grow wild and have been savoured for centuries, they hold many natural remedies.

In the mountains and gorges grow plane trees, Mediterranean cyprus pines and maple trees in the rocky terrain, along with trachea pine, kermes oak and carob tree. There are also chasteberry and mastic shrubs, myrtles, strawberry trees and ebony trees, lavender and and the wonderful healing herb known as Dictamo (Origanum dictamnus).

Samaria Mt Gingilos


The famous animals of Crete are the Kri-Kri (capra aegagrus cretensis), (below) indigenous mountain goats now protected.

Kri Kri young by Yannis Douros

In Samaria National Park (pictured above), the goats are slowly increasing in population. They are difficult for the visitors to see as they are shy and fast-footed, they climb in the highest, steepest mountain terrain and keep out of people's way. The brown goats known as agrimi or wild ones, can only be found in a few places in Crete now. Still they are hunted and destruction of natural places limits their habitat.

Other mammals found in Cretan nature include the Cretan Spiny mouse, shrews, hedgehogs, weasels, martens and badgers, mice and bats.

The other notable animals are the Loggerhead Sea Turtle caretta caretta, also protected and helped by many volunteers in conservation projects. You can contact the Archelon – the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece and the World Wildlife Fund both in Athens to learn how to support the turtles.

Lily of the Sea Crete Kriti


The Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus (above) is critically endangered. See our conservation pages, by clicking on the seal photo, to learn how to support the seals. Thank you to the kind folks at Monachus Guardian for this lovely photo. Learn about their work at www.monachus-guardian.org.

Fourogatos Crete Kriti


Now to the intriguing story of Cretan nature; the fourogatos Cretan Wild Cat Felis silvestris agrius. This cat was thought to be extinct but recent reports of sightings have created hope that there may be some of these beautiful felines roaming wild in Kriti. Has anyone seen one?

In the sea roam fin whales and pygmy sperm whales. Whalespotting tours are available at Paleohora on the south coast of western Crete, where you can also see delfinia dolphins, a sacred animal to the Minoans and still swimming in the waters around Crete.

Vai Palm Forest Kriti

The shy Cretan Martin is a little bit like a stoat or a weasel and has had rare sightings; however we saw one at Vai Palm Forest. This palm forest at the eastern tip of Crete is the largest in Europe. The palms Phoenix Theophrastii, are unique to Crete. The forest borders on Vai Beach, and nestles inland around a fresh water creek in a shallow valley. The area is now protected by the EU and is recovering from destruction. The forest supports a number of animals.

In Kriti there are all types of marine life; fish, coral, shells, octopus, moray eels, scorpion fish, salemas, bream, stingrays, sponges and sea anemones. The Mediterranean is home to much of Cretan nature.

Bearded Vulture Crete Kriti

The birds of Cretan nature are many and interesting and we will show you a few about them. A bird of prey the Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus (see picture above). One of only very few of this rare bird lives in Kriti. These birds are endangered, and are protected under the Life program of the European Union.

In Crete are found the European Kestrel, the Partridge, the Golden Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, Griffin Vulture, doves and martins.

Eleonora Falcon Crete Kriti

The Eleonora's Falcon (above) is known in Greece as Mavropetritis. A fast and skillful predator, it migrates from the Mediterranean to Madagascar and other islands in the Indian ocean each year. This beautiful bird is under threat. Its habitat on tiny islets is being destroyed or invaded by rats, due to human activity.

Natural History Museum of Crete - Iraklio


The Natural History Museum of Crete, at the University of Crete in Iraklion, protects the Eleonora's Falcon in participation with other organisations and the European Life program Nature 2003. Their website it at www.nhmc.uoc.gr, visit the museum to learn about the diverse flora and fauna of Kriti. This museum shows a vast range of Cretan nature.

E4 European walking path Crete Kriti


A great way to experience Cretan nature is to walk the E4 European Walking Path.

This path stretches over the Lefka Ori, Psiloritis and the Dikti Mountains, running from west to east across the whole of Crete for 320kms. There is a coastal route and an alpine route to choose from. See the information at our dedicated page.

Want to see more of Kriti? Planning a visit? Wanting better maps? On our map page we tell you where to find excellent maps of the island for walking, hiking, E4 path and more.
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