Flora and Fauna

Flora on Capri

The Mediterranean bush

The Mediterranean bush undoubtedly represents the most diffused type of spontaneous vegetation on Capri. Its characteristic formation can be found in many areas of the island. Where they are present, they confer the only note of green to the environment.

The general dark colour of the bushes and the prosperity of the shrub species are among the most outstanding features of these formations. The plants that are part of this type of vegetation are woody and shrub-like, but also mainly evergreen and sclerophyllous, that is with leathery persistent leaves which are often small in size. This rather constant structure, has however a notable difference in flora and the species that comprise it can therefore be different according to variations in the environmental conditions. Several types of bush can therefore be identified where, in each, one or more entities predominate which are rare, if not entirely absent, in other situations.

The arboreal euphorbia

Along the whole perimeter of the island, but also toward the internal areas, there are frequent low straggly coastal bushes with a predominance of arboreal euphorbia.
This species is often accompanied by lentisks and rosemary and manages to grow as far as the more inhospitable rocky slopes, the gravel areas, the more arid stony ground and those impoverished of nourishing substances. It is found on the sunniest and stony hills of the southern slopes of the island and particularly between the Natural Arch and Punta Tragara. It almost encircles nearly all of the sides of the Villa Jovis ruins and, although less diffused, it appears now and again also on the northern coast, where it is mainly found in correspondence to the stoniest areas between the Punta del Capo and Marina Grande. It is easy to notice even from a distance where this type of bush is present during all the periods in the year: in spring the tender green colour of the young euphorbia buds stand out; whilst in the summer the darker tips of the other bushes can be seen that accompany it with the brownish red of its branches and its leaves. It is interesting to notice the particular behavior of this species that sheds its leaves in the summer period to limit the damages caused by aridity during the hot months.

The Ilex Wood

The main and most extensive woods on Capri are the Ilex woods and particularly that through which the road to Anacapri winds its way. A futher two less extensive fragments of ilex can be found around Villa Fersen in the North-Eastern extremity of the island, whilst the other one occupies some areas of the steep slopes that connect the Natural Arch to the Cala di Matermania. The physiognomy of these woods is influenced by the slopes on which it has developed. They subsist here or because these areas have never been cultivated or used for pasture, or because agriculture and pasture activities have not been practiced for a very long time.

By M. Ricciardi e S. Mazzoleni, "Flora illustrata di Capri", Electa, Napoli, 1991

Fauna in Capri

The small islands of the Mediterranean are extremely peculiar biota and real life laboratories of evolution. Their faunas are often peculiar and extremely interesting due to their high level of endemicity. Here it is the small invertebrates which represent the dominant and most diversified component. In fact, given the diversification of the environments, it is possible to observe, numerous terrestrial gastropods, bugs and arachnids, some of which endemic. It is common to observe birds flying over the area which are mainly small sparrows and the noisier visitors of the vegetation. Their songs, together with the noise of the waves that break against the rock-cliffs make the slopes of the island extremely suggestive.
“And when the day ends, a lonely hawk appears and, for hunger or for love, circles above the island.”

Migration. Due to its particular geographical position in the centre of the Mediterranean, Italy and Capri in particular represents a bridge towards the African continent for all the birds that twice a year mass migrate to find better climatic conditions.
During the spring period it is common to see a large number of small birds. In fact, the island, like the entire area along the Tyrrhenian coast, sees the passage of all the birds, mainly the Passeriformi transahariani, which come from their wintering in the districts south of the Sahara, where they have spent the winter, on their way to Central Europe. The same species can also be observed in September, when with the arrival of the winter season, they return to the warm countries. In autumn the flow is inferior due to a different route taken (through the Iberian or Balkan peninsula) by many species, and because other species return to the winter zones without intermediate stops. During October and November, when the myrtle berries, lentisks and olives mature, there is a migratory flow over short distances (within Europe) of some species who spend winter on the island.

Fauna species on the island

Birds

Coturnix coturnix (quail)

The quail is a small “galliform”, difficult to observe, with reddish coloured plumage stained with black and white. Once upon a time it was very common to the extent where hunting them, with nets and traps, and selling them represented one of the main economic sources of the island.

Erithacus nubecola (robin)

Small passeriform birds from orange coloured breast with reddish tones (used as a sign of aggressiveness), it is observed whilst showing off the colours of its plumage to defend the territory.

Falco peregrinus (peregrine falcon)

One of the most elegant falcons. It lives on the cliffs where it nests and from where it leaves for its hunting sprees; they are spectacular because of the speed with which they launch on their prey.

Scolopax rusticola (woodcock)

Hunted for its meat, it is easy prey for hunters as it is a slow flier. It can see at all angles without turning its head since its eyes are situated very far back and superimpose their visual range.

Turdus merula (blackbird)

This is definitely one of the birds that has better adapted to the environmental changes caused by man. They can easily be found in the gardens of houses, where they search for worms, bugs and in the autumn periods also berries and fruits, especially ivy.

Rectiles

Tarentola mauritanica (gecko)

Geckos are rather common and around 10cm in length. Commonly found in the evening while hunting for small butterflies and other bugs on walls. It is recognized from the warty gecko as it has suction pads which consists in one series of plates.

Fish

Anthias anthias (red goldfish)

It was given the name that Aristotle had attributed to a fish, which he believed could keep predators at bay and provide protection to the fishermen. It lives in small groups in rocky and coral areas near ravines and caves.

Conger conger (conger eel)

The conger eel is a species which is similar to a moray eel with skin, without scales and covered in grey mucus. It is a very aggressive animal, in the daytime it remains hidden in the rocky ravines from where it comes out at night to go hunting.

Diplodus annularis (sargo)

A small sargo with a golden colour and greenish tones. It can be found in deep waters on rocky beds or posidonia seagrass beds. As all the species belonging to the “Diplodus” genre, it is hermaphroditic.

Epinephelus guaza (grouper)

Ambition of the underwater hunters, with an unmistakable shape and colour, it is capable of incredible chromatic variations for mimetic purposes. It lives on rocky seabeds from a few meters deep to over 200 meters. Very rare!

Mugil cephalus (mullet)

It lives in large shoals in the superficial waters near the coast, where it feeds on small organisms and decomposing substances. In Sardinia the eggs are salted and use for preparing mullet roe.

(Dr. Gennaro Aprea, Capri, 2004)

The blue lizard of the Faraglioni

Due to their small size, the islands can be considered to be natural laboratories of evolution as only a few species can survive there; the isolation favours in fact the creation of new species. They have always represented an irresistible attraction for naturalists. One of the fundamental reasons is that there is the possibility to study the evolutions that lead to biodiversity.

Among the Vertebrates of the islands in the Mediterranean basin, the Reptiles are those that show a higher level of endemicity and particularly those belonging to Lacertidaes family, the Podarcis species; in this article we will deal with a subspecies of field lizard, Podarcis Sicula, which is found in the islands of the Tyrrhenian to the Apennines and from Istria to the Marmara Sea.

The rural lizard is divided into about fifty subspecies: one of these, very rare, the Podarcis sicula coerulea (blue lizard), that lives exclusively on the Faraglioni in Capri. The Podarcis sicula coerulea, with the particular blue coloration of the throat, of the abdomen, of the sides, of the under-tail and the blackish pigmentation of the back. It has an elegant build, a distinct head, forked and retractable flat tongue, eyes with moving eyelids and round pupils. It has a lively temperament, the male adults are territorial animals and in particular during the mating period they often fight, even if generally these fights are more like rituals; they mainly feed on insects. The melanism, the phenomenon that consists in the darkening of the back and the ventral parts, helps the thermoregulation; in fact the Reptiles are defined cold-blooded animals or rather pecilotermi ectoterrni and accordingly they only function when environmental thermal conditions are such that the body reaches a suitable temperature for their vital functions. According to some naturalists the darker colours under the belly absorb the heat better, allowing the Podarcis sicula coerulea, to start hunting the lizards with a typically lighter coloration first, which also helps reproductive functions.

At the end of the XIX century the discovery of this new "species" instigated a lively dispute between Bedriaga and Eimer, two European zoologists; the cause was the right of precedence regarding this discovery. In any case, the first to publish the description of the blue lizard was the herpetologist Eimer in 1872. In actual fact, current day taxonomic studies have shown that the population of the blue lizards on the Faraglioni doesn't constitute a new species, but one of the so many variations of rural lizards. We hope that the destiny of the blue lizard is not the same as that of the Podarcis sicula sanctistephani, from the island of S. Stephen (Ponza Archipelago), which became extinct for unknown reasons from 1900 to 1910. (R. M. Onion, October 2000)


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