The geographical position, the climate and the large variety of biotopes in the Aegean constitute the physiognomy of the fauna, which is quite rich and it consists of a mixture of European, Asia and African species, along with some endemic species.
Reptiles. The reptile fauna of the Aegean is characterized by great wealth and diversity and this is mainly because of the hot climate and the big variety of the biotopes that the Greek islands have. The islands of South Aegean constitute the spreading border of certain species. From the Dodecanese and the other islands along the coasts of Asia Minor we can see that many of the reptile species that are found there do not exist in Mainland Greece. The Turkish Lizard Anatolacerta oertzeni is found in some of the Dodecanese islands. Some other species that are found only in the East Aegean are the Golden lizard Mabuya aurata, the Black Whip Snake Coluber jugularis, the Whip Snake of Rhodes or Coin-Marked Snake Coluber nummifer, the Dwarf snake Eirenis modestus and the Dodecanese Amphisbaina Blanusstrauchi as well as the Ottoman Viper Vipera xanthina and Ophisops Ophisops elegans. The Ottoman Viper is known on the islands of East Aegean (Patmos, Leros, Leipsoi, Kalymnos, Kos, Symi, Halki, Lesvos, Chios, Oinousses, Samos). The Dodecanese Amphisbaina Blanus strauchi is known only in Kos and Rhodes. The Lillte Crocodile Laudacia stellio is located on the islands of Delos, Naxos, Paros and Antiparos. In addition, there is the Snake of Gyaros Hierophis viridiflavus in Gyaros.
Furthermore an important species is Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, which is classified as Critically Endangered in the Red Data Book of Endangered Animals of Greece. Additionally the Turtle Caretta caretta and the Green Sea turtle Chelonia mydas show a significant presence in the Aegean and are classified as Endangered. The major threat to reptiles belonging to one of the risk categories of the Red Book is the anthropogenic destruction and the degradation of their habitats. This is mainly due to the uncontrolled urban expansion, the development of agriculture, the mining and the fires.
Dimaki Μ. 2010. “Aigeo: Mia thalassa zois. Ta erpeta. I Fisi”: volume 129, pages 28-30. Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature.
Bird fauna. The Bird fauna of the Aegean shows considerable interest. Its wealth is partially due to the location of the Aegean Sea as it stands between Asia Minor and mainland Greece and it hosts species from both regions. In addition, the Aegean is a place of transit for millions of migratory birds traveling to and from Africa every spring and autumn. Especially in the spring, the Aegean is an important resting and supply place as they arrive tired, hungry and dehydrated having crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean. The wetlands of many islands of Central and East Aegean such as Lake Psalidi and marsh Aliki in Kos, the small wetlands of Tinos, the wetland of Serifos, the lagoon of Aliki in Naxos, the lake and the salt pans of Milos, the wetlands of Paros and Antiparos and the wetlands of Patmos are very important for migratory birds. Of particular importance are the numerous small seasonal wetlands formed in desolate islets and rocky islets and support the migratory birds during their long journey in the spring and autumn.
Apart from the migratory bird populations that stop to refuel and rest, the Aegean Sea hosts some important and rare seabirds such as Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan, Artemis bird Calonectris diomedea and Ηydrobates Hydrobates pelagicus. For these species the open sea is the habitat where they feed, mate and sleep. They come ashore only to nest on isolated islets, which offer them safety without land predators. The Audouin’s Gull Laurus audouinii, the European Herring Gull Larus cachinnans and the Mediterranean Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis are ranked in the Aegean Coastal seabirds. The Audouin’s Gull is the only gull found exclusively in the Mediterranean. In Greece most Audouin’s Gull colonies are located in the Dodecanese and East Cyclades. The Audouin’s Gull, a symbol of the islets, is threatened more than any other seabird in Greece. It nests in places that can be easily reached by man or animal, and it also nests in the high touristic season, in early summer. Then, only one visit from humans or pets on the colony’s islet is enough for the adult birds to leave the nest and the entire colony to be destroyed. For the small population of Audouin’s Gull a damaged colony is a significant loss. Audouin’s Gull is recorded as “endangered” in the Greek Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates.
Finally, another important species belongs to the group of the birds that nest on the Aegean islands that is not a seabird though. Eleonora’s Falcon Falco eleonorae, or Varvaki as the residents of the Aegean islands call it, nests in colonies on small islets (or on steep rocky coasts), and every morning it begins to fly over the sea to feed and bring food to its young ones. The special feature of that bird that makes it unique in the world is the fact that Eleonora’s Falcon is the only predator that has specialized in exclusively hunting migratory birds over the sea. Eleonora’s Falcon is a rare species on a global scale, with a total population of less than 20.000 members. 70% of the world’s population is found in the islands of the Aegean, where it finds abundant food, winds that facilitate hunting, and isolated islets without land predators to nest. Thus, Greece has the greatest responsibility for the species’ conservation worldwide while simultaneously Eleonora’s Falcon is the most important bird species in Greece.
Akrioti Τ. 2010. “Aigeo: Mia thalassa zois. Ornithopanida. I Fisi”: volume 129, pages 21-25. Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature.
Mammals. In the Aegean there are land mammals belonging to the carnivores such as foxes, martens, weasels, badgers, otters, etc., artiodactyls such as deer, wild goats, Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica, wild boars, insectivores such as porcupines, shrew moles, talpids, lagomorphs such as rabbits and hares, rodents such as squirrels, mice, rats, moles, etc. Furthermore, the large number of caves that exist in the Aegean host a variety of Bats.
The Fallow deer Dama dama deserves particular mention. Less than 50 animals currently live in the forests of Rhodes, which constitute its habitat, and the species is included in the category “Vulnerable” in the Red Book of Endangered Vertebrates of Greece. Additionally in the Cycladic Antimilos the Wild Goat subspecies Capra aegagrus pictus is found and its population is probably of ancient origin. Other important land mammals that need protection is the Steppe field mouse Apodemus witherbyi and the Asian Serotine Eptesicus bottae in Rhodes.
The Aegean Sea also hosts several important species of marine mammals. The species found in South Aegean is the Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, the Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus which is a species classified as Critically Endangered, Ziphius cavirostris with populations in Milos and Karpathos, the Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus, the Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba and the common dolphin Delphinus delphis with populations in the Dodecanese. All these marine Mammals are very important for the health of the marine ecosystem and need conservation and protection. But the most famous marine mammal found in the Aegean is the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus. Approximately half of the global population of this species lives and reproduces in the Greek seas, approximately 250-300 members. The species is still widely distributed in almost the entire coastal and insular land. They most widely appear on isolated, rocky and inaccessible islands and coastal areas, which as it seems the species prefers, thus avoiding the intense human activities. Important populations worldwide have been recorded in the Northern Sporades, Gyaros and in the island complex of Kimolos-Polyaigos in the Cyclades. Simultaneously, other small breeding groups survive in the Dodecanese, mainly in North Karpathos.
Maria Livanou and Vangelis Paravas. The marine Mammals of the Greek Sea. Publication of WWF Hellas. Informational brochure about the program “Thalassa: Learn, Act, Protect / Information, Education, Participatory Campaign for Marine Mammals in Greece”