Fauna of the Canary Islands

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A short description of the Fauna of the Canary Islands

Gallotia - Canarian Fauna

The fauna of the Canary Islands has a complex diversity due to two factors, insularity and climate.
Originated at the beginning of the Miocene, the Canary Islands have always been isolated from the mainland. It is reflected on its fauna, with few species and many endemism.

Same phenomenon is repeated in many other archipelagos in the world, like the Galapagos, Australia, Madagascar and New Zealand. In the case of the Canary Islands, we must also emphasize the inclusion of the archipelago in the Macaronesia region. This region has a volcanic character and is particularly full of micro fauna, with endemic species and subspecies.

Most of all the climate and landscape diversity in the Canary Islands, are the factors that influence this zoological diversity. In fact, the most eastern islands, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Lobos and the archipelago Chinijo, have spaces with semi-desert habitat, and are influenced by the nearby presence of the Sahara. Very different are the westernmost islands, which are the home of the forests of Laurisilva and Pino Canario, due to the climatic influence of the trade winds. In general, apart from endemic species, the species present are typical of the Mediterranean and North Africa.

The economic and demographic transformation of the islands, over the last decades, has had repercussions on insular environment and

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

over the fauna of the Canary Islands. A number of endemic species of reptiles, birds and mammals, are endangered; various measures of protection, reproduction and conservation, seek to avoid their complete disappearance. Even the creation of national parks and other protected areas, contributes to the preservation of species that can’t be found outside the islands.

Faunal diversity

Currently live in the Canary 12,700 species of land animals, and other 4500 marine, including about 3600 species that are endemic (mostly terrestrial).

Of course, the invertebrates (near 8000 species), are much more numerous than vertebrates (125 species).


The taxonomic group with the largest number of species is the arthropods, with nearly 8000 species, of which near 7000 of land and more than 1,000 marine. Here you also have the highest percentage of endemic species.

Molluscs follow, with more than 1400 species, especially marine (1170 spp.).


Among the fauna of the Canary Islands, land and freshwater snails are one of the groups with the highest percentage of endemic species.

Insulovitrina lamarckii
Insulovitrina lamarckii

The last publications estimate that there are about 250 different species, of which about 80% are endemic to the archipelago. These numbers, are expected to grow as researchers described new species (between 2000 and 2003, 12 new species have been described). Excluding the human introductions, we were recorded 30 kinds of invertebrates in these islands, of which 6 are endemic. The more diversified is the Napaeus, of which there are more than fifty species. Another highlight is the endemic genus Canariella (29 species). The genus Hemicycla has more than 40 species in the islands, Monilearia fifteen and a half-dozen Obelus, Napaeus variatus 5 species (endemic of Tenerife).

An important group are the Vitrinidae, with about 20 species in the Canaries. These have appearance of slugs, but actually have a small visible shell.
Since they can not withdraw at greater risk of water loss and therefore live in damp places, such as Insulovitrina lamarckii, which inhabits the forests of Laurisilva (Anaga mountains).

Furthermore some of these species are endangered, as Hemicycla saulcyi and Napaeus isletae, which survive only in a small area of “La Isleta” in the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in a military zone, or Hemicycla plicaria of Tenerife, which survives in a small area between the Candelaria, Las Caletillas and Igueste de Candelaria.

Poecilia reticulata
Poecilia reticulata


There are a wide variety of fish among the fauna of the Canary Islands, but no species of native freshwater.

Have settled here the red fish (Carassius auratus), the gambusina (Gambusia affinis), the black bass (largemouth bass), the guppy (Poecilia reticulata) and carp (Cyprinus carpio).



Amphibians and Reptiles

There are no native amphibians in the archipelago. The only two species, tree frog (Hyla arborea) and Common Frog (Pelophylax perezi)

Chalcides sexlineatus
Chalcides sexlineatus

are introduced.

There are 16 endemic species of reptile among the fauna of the Canary Islands, belonging to three different genera of three families, scincidi (Chalcides, Scincidae), geckos (Tarentola, Gekkonidae) and endemic species of giant lizards (Gallotia, Lacertidae).

As for gongili and scincidi we find:

Chalcides sexlineatus, in Gran Canaria; C. Simonyi, probably extinct in Lobos, but it is in fragmented areas of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura; C. coeruleopunctatus in La Gomera and El Hierro; C. viridanus in Tenerife, La Gomera and El Hierro.

Giant lizards

On the islands there are several endemic species of giant lizards. Now some have become extinct because of habitat destruction and the introduction of exotic species.

Gallotia atlantica
Gallotia atlantica

Today, the most abundant is the giant lizard of Gran Canaria (Gallotia stehlini).

The giant lizard of El Hierro (El Hierro Giant Lizard machadoi) and the giant lizard of La Gomera (La Gomera Giant Lizard), are in danger of extinction. Both are subject to captive breeding programs and reintroduction in lower-risk areas.

The giant lizard of La Palma (Gallotia auaritae), was considered extinct until the discovery of some living specimens at the end of August 2007. Subsequent searches have not yielded results.

Something similar happens to the Canary speckled lizard (Gallotia intermedia), endemic to Tenerife. In the past it has occupied almost all of the island’s habitat. Human activity has push them to the brink of extinction, now lives only on the northwest side. It was rediscovered in 1996.

The lizard Atlantica (Gallotia atlantica), is endemic to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, as well as other small islets.

The small lizard of the Canary (Gallotia caesaris), is endemic of La Gomera and El Hierro; in Madeira was introduced.

The Western Canary lizard (Gallotia galloti), lives on the islands of Tenerife and La Palma.

Two species that inhabited Tenerife and La Gomera possibly extinct (Lacerta goliath and Lacerta maxima). The same fate have followed the giant lizard of Roque Chico and of El Hierro (Gallotia simonyi simonyi).

Introduced reptiles species

Lampropeltis getula
Lampropeltis getula

The only species of snake that lives in the archipelago, has been introduced by man, now found only on the island of Gran Canaria. It is the

California king snake (Lampropeltis getula), it’s considered a pest and to control it, will make great scientific and economic efforts.

Another introduced species of reptiles is the warty gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), originating in the Mediterranean region.

In addition, three species of lizards (Gallotia) have been moved, and have established colonies in the archipelago, but outside their natural range.

Eretmochelys imbricata
Eretmochelys imbricata

Sea turtles

Four species of sea turtles are found in the waters:

Loggerhead Turtle ( Caretta caretta ), green turtle ( Chelonia mydas ), Hawksbill turtle ( Eretmochelys imbricata ) and occasionally olive ridley turtle ( Lepidochelys olivacea ), much more common in the Cape Verde Islands, Azores, Madeira and along the African coast.

Also, in the south of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, were founded fossils of extinct prehistoric giants turtles. They are similar in size to the tortoises of the Galapagos.



The birds along with reptiles, are those that bring the majority of endemic species to the fauna of the Canary Islands, (6 species and 36 subspecies):

Fringilla teydea
Fringilla teydea

Phylloscopus canariensis (Canary warbler)
Columba junoniae (Bolle pigeon)
Columba bollii (trocaz pigeon)
Regulus teneriffae (ruler of Tenerife)
Saxicola dacotiae (throated)
Fringilla teydea (blue chaffinch)

Some are endemic of Macaronesia, as the swift (Apus unicolor) or passerine (Anthus berthelotii); other, are widely distributed in Asia and Africa; you can find them in the eastern islands, such as the Houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) or cream-colored courser (Cursorius cursor). The blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea) is an endemic bird of the island of Tenerife, of which there is a subspecies in Gran Canaria.

Furthermore a special case in the native fauna fauna of the Canary Islands, is the canary (Serinus canaria), actually diffused all around the world as songbird.

Pandion haliaetus
Pandion haliaetus

Among the birds of prey, we report the presence of hawks, like the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) or the falcon of Barbary (Falco pelegrinoides); inhabit the island-eared owl (Asio otus), the barn owl (Tyto alba), the buzzard (Buteo buteo), with the endemic subspecies B. buteo insularum, the black kite (Milvus migrans), the sparrowhawk Eurasian (Accipiter nisus), and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The scavengers have the sole representative of the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus).

Introduced birds species

At least 12 species have been introduced by man.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the ostricaio canario (Haematopus meadewaldoi) was extinct.

In the eastern islands remains of fossil eggs of large birds, have been founded.

Plecotus teneriffae
Plecotus teneriffae


Among endemic mammals, stands out the presence of trunnion Tenerife (Plecotus teneriffae) and shrews (greater white-toothed shrew, Crocidura canariensis).

In the island became extinct two species of giant rats: (Canariomys bravoi) and Canariomys tamarani.

Also in the Canary waters there is a significant presence of cetaceans.

In addition, the island has a breed of dog native and unique; the Dogo Canario.

Brought species

During their history the Canary Islands, several species, which caused a strong impact for the native fauna, were introduced by man.

Before the Spanish conquest of the XIV-XV century, the natives introduced in the islands goats, pigs and dogs from North Africa. It caused an impact on the local wildlife, the Spaniards after introduced cattle and horses. More recently he introduced the mouflon.

Recently a few animals escaped from captivity company (iguanas, snakes, turtles …), have been joined the local fauna.

Consequently there are currently 42 non-native species that breed in the archipelago and many other not confirmed.

Read also Flora of Canary Island

Read also Canarian fish life