Flora and fauna
Although Tenerife is just a small island covering 2,034 km2 (785 sq miles), it is home to a surprising ecological diversity thanks to its special environmental conditions: the Island's abrupt topography affects its local weather conditions, leading to a great variety of microclimates. Such an abundance of microclimates results in many different natural habitats, and this is clear to see in the Island's vegetation. The flora here is rich and varied, with some 1,400 higher plant species, a considerable number of which are endemic to the Canary Islands (200) and others to Tenerife (140). In terms of fauna, Tenerife is estimated to have roughly 400 species of fish, 56 types of birds, 5 different reptiles, 2 species of amphibians, 13 land mammals and several thousand kinds of invertebrates, as well as some species of sea turtles and cetaceans.
Tenerife is the largest and highest of the Canary Islands, which explains why it boasts the greatest biological diversity in the archipelago. There are over 800 species of fauna and flora living here which are unique in the world. It is also amazing to think that although the Canary Islands accounts for just 1.5% of Spanish territory, it houses more than half of the country's endemic species.
One of the Island's main peculiarities is that the vegetation changes radically in areas that are barely a few hundred metres apart. This is because of the difference in altitude and the microclimates the relief creates, giving rise to six different ecosystems. Therefore, you will find magnificent specimens of tabaibas and Canary Island spurge on the coast resembling an exotic desert with an arid climate, whilst the vegetation in the highlands is more typically Mediterranean: shrubs, thermophilic forests and vast expanses of pine trees. You will find yourself walking through junipers, olive bushes, palm trees and even the odd dragon tree, one of the Canary Islands' great symbols.
The trade winds make the north side of the Island more humid, which of course makes its forests lusher and greener. The trees growing here are like living fossils. The Canarian laurel forests comprise a type of vegetation that covered the entire Mediterranean basin in the Tertiary Period, until it disappeared hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Rising up over these forests, which are also known as Monteverde (meaning Mountain Greenery), is the Canarian pine tree, which is particularly abundant in the south of the Island.
Tenerife's vegetation can be divided into six ecosystems according to altitude and orientation, as follows:
- Canary island spurges and tabaibas: This type of greenery ranges from the coast up to altitudes of 700 m (2,300 ft) above sea level. These plants are xerophilic shrubs that have adapted to drought, strong winds and constant sunlight. There are various endemic species in this ecosystem.
- Thermophilic forests: This ecosystem is a transitional area ranging from 200 to 600 m (655 to 1970 ft) where the rainfall and temperatures are moderate, encouraging junipers, dragon trees and palm trees to grow here.
- Laurel forests: Living at altitudes of 500 to 1,000 m (1,640 to 3,280 ft) are these dense forests of large trees from the Tertiary Period. They are home to such diverse species as ferns, laurels, small-leaved holly bushes and viñatigos.
- Macronesian heathland: This type of greenery grows 1,000 to 1,500 m (3,280 to 4,920 ft) above sea level.
- Pine forests: Tenerife's pine forests grow at altitudes ranging from 800 to 2,000 m (2,625 to 6,560 ft).
- High mountain: From 2,000 m (6,560 ft) upwards, the climate becomes very dry with extreme temperatures and high solar radiation. The area's greenery includes endemic species such as buglosses, brooms and Teide violets, all of which have proved their ability to adapt to these extreme conditions.
As in the rest of the archipelago, Tenerife's fauna is similar to the wildlife populating northern Africa and southern Europe. But the main distinctive element is the percentage of endemic species, which can be found nowhere else in the world, largely thanks to years of genetic isolation.
In Tenerife, most of these endemic species are found in the areas of Anaga, Teno and Las Cañadas del Teide. Moreover, one of the most significant groups of animals on the Island are invertebrates, which account for 3,000 species, 40% of which are endemic. And there are over 200 species of birds that fly through Tenerife's skies throughout the year.
Some of them, such as herons and ducks, come here in search of good weather on their migratory routes. Others such as Bolle's pigeons, laurel pigeons and blue chaffinches are unique in the world and live on the Island permanently. On the coast, Scopoli's shearwaters and ospreys are a wonderful sight for those who enjoy bird watching, which is one of the many activities that Tenerife has to offer, though you will need a licence and there are specific areas for it.
As for mammals, there are 13 species, most of which have been introduced by mankind. The arrival of the aborigines some 2,500 years ago brought with it sheep, goats, dogs and pigs. These animals adapted so successfully to the Canary Islands that they even developed into autochthonous species. Other mammals that were introduced include rabbits, rats, pygmy shrews and the North African hedgehog. The most recent introduction was the Corsican mouflon, which was released in Mount Teide National Park for hunting purposes.
Tenerife has a wide variety of reptiles and they are all worth discovering as there are several that you won't find anywhere else. There are five species on the Island and the spotted lizard, for instance, is endemic to Tenerife. Of the other four species, the Canarian lizard and the Tenerife lizard are also present on the rest of the islands, where there are various breeds. The other two species are the Tenerife Gecko and the pink salamander.
In terms of amphibians, the Island is known to house two species of frogs that were brought over from Europe and now thrive around lakes and watercourses. It has been confirmed that eels have been spotted in some of the ravines in Anaga and Teno, though they are in danger of extinction.
The Canary Islands also welcome "sea tourists" from all corners of the world. This is where species from the cold Atlantic meet others from warmer waters, including Caribbean sea creatures such as various species of sea turtles. Tenerife also happens to be one of the best places on the planet for whale and dolphin watching, with as many as 21 species of cetaceans living in its waters.