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Discover the Wildlife of the Alps

Alpine Marmot, Alps Wildlife

The Alpine Marmot

The Alps span over eight countries and dominate central Europe. The mountain range extends from Slovenia in the east, on the edge of the Balkans and close to the Adriatic, upwards to Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In the west the Alps reach across to the Mediterranean coast of the south of France. In total the entire range covers a staggering quarter of a million square kilometres! The astonishing diversity of habitats that can be found in the meadows, water courses, woodlands and rocky ridges of the mountains are home to a rich diversity of species of flora and fauna.

The highest peaks of the Alpine range remain snow-capped all year round, rising up to over 4000 metres in altitude. Down below, the Alpine meadows spring to life and colour in early spring. The large differences in temperature between the lowest and highest points of the valleys results in dramatic climatic differences that influence where different species of animals can be found. The distinct natural habitats of the Alpine environment are home to about 30,000 animal species and 13,000 plant species, though the exact number still remains unknown! Even today, the most remote areas of the range still remain relatively little documented by zoologists. The importance of the natural environment has, fortunately, been long recognised — meaning that many areas have special status as national parks. Indeed, certain areas of the Alps, such as the Jungfrau-Aletsch in the Swiss Alps, have also received special protection under UNESCO.

At the highest altitudes the living conditions are exceptionally challenging for the animals, especially in winter. Alpine species include deer, stag, rabbit, pheasant, fox, badger, marten and partridge. Also native to the alpine regions are the chamois, marmot, wild boar, golden eagle and mountain jackdaw. Whilst some species have adapted to live at lower altitudes and in milder conditions, other Alpine species have developed ways to survive and adapt in the most difficult climatic conditions. A variety of unique adaptations can be seen in species such as the Alpine marmot and the ibex. Many of the animals, including the famous Alpine marmot, hibernate during the coldest months of the year. Others such as the chamois, however, either migrate over comparatively long distances or otherwise descend to lower altitudes to avoid the bleak winter cold. In contrast, in winter the Alpine ibex has evolved to traverse near vertical cliffs in order to avoid deep snow and forage for food. After nearly becoming extinct, the Alpine ibex is once again flourishing. It survived as a small population in Italy’s Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy and has since been re-introduced to other regions within the Alps. Today the ibex may be found in much of its original habitats across the range.

To help them survive, the birds and mammals of the Alps frequently have thicker feathers or pelts to cope with the cold at higher elevations, and their feet or paws are often specially adapted for travel across the snowy mountain slopes. The mountain hare, the ptarmigan and the stoat are very different creatures — yet they all share the same characteristic of changing their brown coats to white in winter, so as to camouflage themselves and avoid predators. In contrast, quite different is the Alpine salamander, which you may spot on one of our summer hikes — it’s the only European amphibian to give birth to fully developed young.

It’s perhaps easy to forget that the Alps are also home to many unique and highly specialised aquatic species that can be found in the Alpine lakes and streams fed by the melting snow and glacier melt-water. Most of the larger Alpine lakes can be found in the valleys that were formed during the uplift of the mountain chain of the Alps millions of years ago. The fish of Europe’s Alpine lakes evolved rapidly after the last Ice Age, transforming into many different species, each with a specialised and distinct appearance. Certain species separated because they spawned in different places, with some favouring the lake bottom and others the surface layers of the lakes. Today, Alpine lakes are home to a multitude of fish of all sizes — look beneath the water’s surface and you’ll find char, bream, pike and, if you’re lucky, the odd eel - or even a prized rainbow trout!

Accompanied by your Tracks and Trails guide, you’ll have the opportunity to share their knowledge of the natural richness of the biodiversity of the fauna and flora in the Alps. You can find out more about all our Alpine hiking, trail running and family holidays on our website — and do get in touch if we can help with any questions!

We look forward to exploring our mountains with you.

Julia