Spacer Spacer Spacer
Chios Nature logo
About us
Flora Checklist
Help us
Contact us
Change to English Spacer Change to Greek
Chios Nature - Winter poster Spacer
This season:
Other Seasons:
Winter species list:
Bullet point Hare
Bullet point Little owl
Bullet point Monk seal
Bullet point Beech marten
Bullet point Chukar partridge
Bullet point Hedgehog
Bullet point Bonelli's eagle
Bullet point Common dolphin
Bullet point Scorpion fish
Bullet point Orchid
Bullet point Black widow spider
Hare [Lepus europaeus]
Hare - photo: Ingo Seehafer Spacer The European brown hare is widespread throughout central and western Europe. It is a mainly nocturnal animal that spends most of the day resting, hidden from view in a shallow depression it has excavated in the ground among tall grasses or other cover-providing vegetation. At night the hare ventures out to feed, grazing on the young shoots of grasses, roots, garden vegetables and other plants. It will even gnaw twigs and the bark of trees if better alternatives are not available. Taking in a lot of difficult-to-digest plant material has led hares to develop the occasional practice of re-ingesting their own fecal pellets.
This coprophagia gives their system a second opportunity to extract nutrients from the same material. Powerful hind legs make hares swift runners - they can reach speeds of 70kph - easily outrunning foxes, dogs, and, of course, man - though not his guns. In need, hares will leap into water to escape, as they are good swimmers, but they usually rely principally on their speed and agility, dodging and changing direction at will. Nevertheless the number of individuals lost to hunters each year is thought to be the primary cause of the hare's decline in numbers. It is in the breeding season (February to September) that hares are most likely to be seen in daylight. As males attempt to approach females fights start, and leaping "boxing" pairs of animals can be seen incautiously drawing attention to themselves as unreceptive females fend off any unwelcome advances and males fight other males for access to potential mates. However, once mating has been successful, three or four litters can be produced in a single year, each with between two and four young. The leverets are born with a full coat of fur, and their eyes open. Although they are vulnerable their mother will leave them alone and unprotected during the day, and they will rely for their survival on instinctively keeping still, as well as being discreetly placed. Their mother will not leave them all in the same location, but distribute them over a wide area so that a predator is less likely to discover all of her young. She will only return to feed each of them at sunset and will go on doing this for about a month. After this it will be time for them to take up the solitary existence of an adult hare, although they will not become sexually mature until they are more than eight months old.

Perhaps it is the instinctive daytime stillness that hares exhibit from birth, and which normally acts to protect them, that accounts for the peculiar phenomenon we sometimes observe when driving at night. Caught in the sudden brightness of headlights, startled hares freeze and remain motionless just when they ought to use all their speed and agility to escape. In their confusion they seem to revert to their very earliest - and arguably most deeply imprinted - behaviour pattern.

back to the top
Little Owl [Athene noctua]
Little owl - photo: Terje Kolaas Spacer Little owls live up to their common name by being really quite small. The female, which is a little larger than the male, only grows to about 25cms long, and her wingspan may reach 54cms. In spite of their small size these are fearsome and daring predators that have been known to tackle prey as large as themselves.
Other bird species have (rightly) learned to fear them and can sometimes be seen harassing an owl to drive it from their neighbourhood. Taking larger prey is relatively rare however, more often the owls will take worms - one of their favourite foods - as well as mice, lizards, frogs, snakes, molluscs and many different kinds of insects. They have a distinctively bounding flight, often keeping close to the ground and gliding upwards before they land, showing the broad, rounded wings that make them such silent flyers. Most of their hunting activity is at dawn or dusk in the half-light, but daytime hunting has been reported also, and individuals are often seen perched quite prominently on a post or stone wall from which they will swoop silently down on prey. They will also run or hop along the ground in pursuit. Little owls have a mewing call, ("kee-wik") and during the breeding season (early Spring) a pair will often call alternately in a duet, with the male answering the female in his distinctive "woop" sound. Nests, to which no lining material is added, are in holes in trees or among rocks, though abandoned buildings and even rabbit holes are also used. Between two and five white eggs are laid, and the male will be active in feeding the chicks. They hatch in about 3-4 weeks, and the young will typically be ready to fly after a further twenty-six days, although their parents will continue to bring food for them for some time.

Little owls can be found in many parts of Europe, particularly towards the south, and also in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor. Although where they occur they can be quite numerous, their numbers are thought to be in general decline. Chios is home to two other owl species in addition to the little owl - the scops and the pale-coloured barn owl (the most numerous of the three). But Greeks feel a special affection for the little owl on account of its associations with their classical past. One of the faces of the silver tetradrachm coin of ancient Athens featured the bird, showing it together with an olive branch and the crescent moon. The other face had an image of the city's goddess herself, Pallas Athene, wearing a crested Attic helmet. The owl was a symbol of the goddess and her wisdom, as she was believed to use it as her messenger.

back to the top
Mediterranean monk seal [Monachus monachus]
Mediterranean monk seal - photo: Vangelis Paravas Spacer This is Europe 's most endangered marine mammal. The worldwide population is estimated to number 500-600 individuals, of which about half live and reproduce in the seas around Greece. In the past, the species was to be found along almost the whole of the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, as well as the Atlantic shores of northwest Africa. Today the seals are confined principally to the northeastern shores of the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey, and, outside the Mediterranean, the shores of Mauritania and the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic.

The greatest threats to the seals have been (and remain) human
disturbance, and the degradation of their habitat. These have lead them to seek out ever more remote sea caves, rather than beaches, to use as their resting and birthing places. The population has become fragmented and thinly distributed among far-flung rocky islets that can be difficult to approach and dangerous to the small pups. Human activities such as industry, building, shipping, tourism and over-fishing have all had negative effects on the viability of the seal population through the pollution of the sea, the increased activity on beaches, and the degradation of the fish stocks on which the seals depend for their food. Yet more threats to the survival of the species are posed by the number of deaths due to deliberate killings (this in spite of the seals' legally protected status) and the drownings which are due to accidental entanglement in fishing gear.

The Mediterranean monk seal can live for up to 40 years and usually gives birth to a single pup each year. This is born between August and November, and will remain with its mother for the next four months, during which time she will suckle it. At birth, the pup will have a coat of thick, black fur with speckled whitish under-parts, which, over the next 5-7 weeks, will gradually give way to a paler grey-coloured coat over the upper side of the body, while the lighter colouring is retained on its belly. While it is nursing, the pup will stay close to its mother and the cavernous refuge she has chosen to use. As soon as it is weaned it will take up a solitary existence that will last for about the next five years, and during this time it will perfect its hunting and survival skills. After this it will have reached maturity and be ready to seek a mate. A mature male monk seal will weigh between 250 and 300kg and be about 3m in length. The females are smaller and lighter, and are distinguishable from the males by their paler fur colour – which is grey, as opposed to the male's black. In spite of their weight and size these animals are wonderfully agile and fast swimmers that are highly skilled hunters of the species on which they feed – mainly fish, squid and octopus. Monk seals have no natural enemies except man, and although they are generally wary of him they show no aggression if they come into contact with people. Nevertheless it is important that we do not interpret this as an indication that our presence is welcome, and we should certainly never approach or disturb a seal if one is encountered, either at sea or on the shore.

In Greece the most concentrated populations are to be found within the National Marine Park of Alonnisos and the North Sporades, and also in Kimolos and Karpathos where there are action plans in place for the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal. In support of these efforts there are nationwide campaigns of public information, as well as a range of initiatives to promote environmental awareness, further research and protection.

Vangelis Paravas

Our thanks to Vangelis Paravas and MOm – the Organisation for the Protection of the Mediterranean Monk Seal. (See Links Page) . We are grateful for permission to use Vangelis' image of “Mitsos” a monk seal pup rescued and rehabilitated by MOm.

back to the top
Beech marten [Martes foina]
Beech marten Spacer Beech martens are found across the drier regions of Western Europe, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Northern India. They are small but fearsome predators with a long, slender body, short legs and a bushy tail. Their brown coats are darkest on the legs and tail, with a paler underside. There is a distinctive,
forked, white marking at the throat. In Winter the soles of their feet develop a thicker layer of hair to help them deal with the cold. They grow up to 50cms in length (including the tail), about 12cms high at the shoulder, and weigh up to 2kg. The beech marten is considered to be a pest in some parts of its range, as it sometimes makes its home in attics and barns and has been known to raid domestic livestock, such as rabbits and poultry. In Chios martens are rarely seen. This may be partly explained by their instinctive shyness but they are anyway not thought to be present in large numbers. Omnivorous, curious and adaptable, martens will hunt during the day but also at dusk and at night. They will accept a wide variety of food, which is fortunate since their high metabolic rate means they must eat well if they are to maintain their energy levels. Their preference is for mice and other rodents, but they will tackle birds and even a hare. Frogs, insects, lizards, birds' eggs, as well as fruit and nuts, will all be added to the diet if they can be found. Martens often live in forests, where fallen trees provide them with the sort of cover they like, but if that kind of habitat is not available they are equally at home among rocks and boulders. Although they are good climbers they do most of their hunting on the ground, moving in a zigzag that is often followed by a series of leaps.

Both males and females are territorial, marking their personal range with piles of droppings, and chasing away individuals of the same sex. Mature males will fight each other in the summer breeding season but will allow more than one female into their territory, and take several partners. The male's initial courting approaches may be met with an aggressive response from the female but he will continue to cajole her with soft cooing noises. (This is in contrast to his growls of suspicion or excitement, and the screaming that goes with finding himself cornered or attacked). Mating usually occurs at night and may last up to an hour. Martens have a curiously long gestation period - although fertilized embryos are present in the female's body by mid-summer they will not become implanted in the wall of her womb until early in the new year. Once implantation has occurred the embryos develop quickly, and the young will be born in the Spring - nine months after fertilization. A litter of 2-4 blind and almost furless kittens will be born in a den lined with leaves or other plant material, and the female will raise them on her own. She will start to feed them meat when they are about five weeks old, and by the time they are three months old they will be nearly fully grown.

back to the top
Chukar partridge [Alectoris chukar]
Chukar partridge - photo: Birds & Birding in India Spacer Chukars can be found over a large range whose western limit includes the Mediterranean islands and which extends as far as India and Nepal to the east. They inhabit open, rocky, dry mountain slopes and hillsides, often in the neighborhood of terraced cultivation. Although they can also be found in flatter areas, such as barren plateaux with sparse grasses, they prefer steep or at least sloping ground as it suits their flight pattern and
climbing abilities better. If they are alarmed they can display impressive running speeds, only taking to the wing on reaching a suitable launching point. Chukars tend only to fly short distances and prefer to head downhill, hugging the contours of the ground. For most of the year the birds move and roost in groups of 4-5 individuals. These "coveys" may swell in size during the Winter so that they number up to forty birds. But during the mating season chukars feed in pairs. Adult birds favour a plant-based diet that will include a mixture of seeds, shoots, bulbs, leaves, stems and buds but they will also take a small proportion of insects. Younger birds show a marked preference for an animal diet, which is higher in protein. Being near a source of water is important to chukars, particularly during the Summer, and coveys often gather where water can be found. Nesting sites too are chosen so that they are within a couple of kilometers of water. Chukars are monogamous, pairing in the Spring. During the mating season the male will defend only the area immediately around his partner. Nests are depressions scratched out of the ground and lined with leaves and feathers. Up to twenty eggs may be laid, but fifteen is more usual. The size of the clutch is affected by drought. In years of severe water shortage breeding may not take place at all. On the other hand, when conditions are favourable two clutches may be raised in a single year. The young partridges are very precocious and leave the nest shortly after they have hatched to follow their mother, as chickens do. Although they are unable to fly they are able to run, and will instinctively run uphill to escape predators, using their stubby wings to press themselves to the ground (rather than lifting off it). When they are running adults and young alike alter the plane through which they flap their wings (head-to-tail instead of back-to-belly). This helps them to climb by increasing the traction of their feet on steep slopes. By the time they are two weeks old the young are beginning to make individual attempts at flying, and at three weeks the whole brood will be making short flights together. The male may have deserted his family by this stage, but the young and their mother will remain close to each other.

Links: Professor Adam Summers has an interesting article about the origins of flight on the University of California 's website. It describes the work of a scientist at the University of Montana who is using the mechanics of the chukar's flight to support the view that flight first developed "from the ground up" rather than "from the tree down".

back to the top
Hedgehog [Erinaceus europaeus]
Hedgehog Spacer Famous for their ability to curl up into an impenetrably prickly sphere, hedgehogs do not seem bothered about attracting attention as they forage for food after dark. Snuffling, snorting and grunting loudly, they betray their location as they go after a wide variety of possible meals, relying mainly on their keen senses
of smell and hearing. Beetles, slugs, snails, caterpillars, centipedes and even birds' eggs are all acceptable and are supplemented with fruit, nuts and cereals when these are available. So the hedgehog not only resembles the hog, whose name it bears, in the sounds that it makes but also in its manner of rooting about noisily in the undergrowth and in its omnivorous eating habits. Its set of thirty-six sharp teeth are capable of delivering a nasty bite and help the animal to eat as much as its own bodyweight of food in one night. Finding a good supply is particularly important in the Autumn as hedgehogs need to build up a reserve of fat that can keep them going through their Winter hibernation. Many die as a result of failure to do so.

Hedgehogs can grow up to 30cms long. The upper parts of their heads and bodies are covered in short, yellow-tipped spines that are an adaptation of the more common soft mammalian hair. The adults may have up to 5,000 of these specially adapted hairs and, like human hair, they can be erected when the animal is threatened. An extra-long backbone allows the hedgehog to curl up tightly, extending the protection to its soft-haired under parts. The spines are very sharp and deter all predators. In the mating season they also serve to deter the unwanted advances of any amorous but undesirable male. A female has to take up a special flattened posture if mating is to take place without injury! Males are promiscuous and will have many partners, leaving the females to raise their young unaided. Baby hedgehogs are born with a coat of soft, white spines, which, for the mother's protection, are underneath the skin until after the birth, and emerge within just a few hours. A second coat of dark spines appears after about 36 hours, and later on a third set develops. Typically there will be 4-5 young in each litter and the mother will begin leading them out of the nest on food-finding expeditions once they are about a month old.

Although they can live for a long time - individuals up to 15 years old have been recorded - most hedgehogs die before their first birthday. They are sensitive to extremes of heat and cold, especially since their spines do not provide good thermal insulation, and hibernation too puts added dangers in their path.

back to the top
Bonelli's eagle [Hieraaetus fasciatus]
Bonellis eagle - photo: KK Hui
Spacer This eagle has a body length of 65-72cms and a wingspan of 150-180cms making it one of the larger birds of prey that can be seen in Chios, though it is a rarity there. It has also been recorded on Psara, Antipsara and Oinousses. Its range extends from the shores of the Mediterranean and NW Africa in the west, to Northern Indochina and Southern China in the east. In Europe, where it is considered an endangered species, it is now thought to number fewer than 1,000 pairs, the largest population being in the Iberian peninsula. The Greek population is estimated at between 85 and 105 pairs, with the highest numbers being found in Crete. Unfortunately livestock farmers have long held the belief (which
is unjustified) that the Bonelli's preys on newborn sheep and goats, and continue to target the birds. Although there are also reports of losses of younger birds due to collisions with electrical cables, it is thought that the main reason for the eagle's decline in Europe is changing land use and the consequent reduction in numbers of suitable prey species.

Bonelli's favour mountainous habitat but are rarely found above 1,500m. Once they have chosen a home range they will remain in that area and do not migrate. They patrol slopes with low vegetation (maquis, phrygana) but also bare ones, and, more rarely, woodland. The usual prey species are partridges, gulls, crows, hares, rodents and reptiles. Most are caught on the ground, but some of the birds will be taken in the air. The eagles use a variety of hunting techniques, looking out for movement from a high vantage point such as a rocky ledge or the cover of a treetop, quartering the landscape or soaring above the hillsides to drop down on their quarry.

The breeding season is between February and April and at this time courtship displays may be observed in which the birds circle the nesting site, make steep dives and climbs and eventually soar together over the site calling to each other. Nests are large and take a long time to construct, perhaps several months. They will be constantly repaired and added to throughout the breeding season. Most nests are made on high rocky ledges, but trees are also used. Two eggs are usually laid but the strongest hatchling frequently kills its sibling, so it is rare to find that a breeding pair has raised more than one chick. The female sits on the eggs for most of the 42-day incubation period, and while she does so the male will bring her food. Parenting young eagles is a lengthy undertaking, as the hatchlings will need to be fed for 65 days until they are ready to fly. Once they have done so they will stay with their parents for a further 8-10 weeks, perfecting their skills.

back to the top
Common dolphin [Delphinus delphis]
Common dolphin - photo: Paul Gale Spacer This small dolphin whose gaiety and beauty was celebrated in the ancient wall paintings of the Minoan civilization is widely distributed throughout the world. Populations exist along both the east and west coasts of North America, the west coast of South America, the Atlantic coasts of Europe, round Japan, Tasmania and
New Zealand and, of course, the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Some populations are present all year round while others appear to be migratory. This could be because of the seasonal movement of the shoals of small fish upon which these air-breathing marine mammals principally feed. Sardines, pilchards, anchovies, young herring, octopus and squid form the mainstay of their diet, and schools of dolphins cooperate to herd shoals from deep water to the surface, where panic makes them an easier target. Leaping into the air offers no escape as the dolphins will happily pursue them there. Seabirds have learned to watch for and take advantage of this activity, eagerly joining the feast.

Common dolphins can grow to about 2.5m long and weigh up to 80kg. They can most readily be identified by their distinctive colouring: the back is grey or black and the underside cream or white. A dark streak runs from the lower jaw to the flipper, and the eyes are encircled with a black line that extends to the long, pointed beak. Cruising speed is a leisurely 5-7mph but the 'engine' can produce 29mph when in pursuit of food. Sonar equipment and twenty small, sharp, backward-curving teeth complete the fishing tackle. A certain level of vigilance is maintained on a 24-hour basis: common dolphins sleep with one eye open, closing each in turn for between 5-10 minutes.

Like all dolphins, the common dolphin is intensely social, and forms close relationships with members of its school. These are not necessarily confined to its blood relatives - real friendships between individuals have frequently been observed. Adults act as teachers to the young and discipline them too, when necessary. If one of the group is unwell the others will try to help it by supporting it at the surface so that it can breathe. Contact is maintained through sound, which carries better through water than it does through air, and is an effective means of communication both in murky conditions and in the dark. Common dolphins make a range of squeaks, whistles and clicks and use them both to identify and locate themselves.

For most of the year pregnant and nursing females live apart from the males, though they will be in the same general area. When Spring approaches the males will begin to court possible mates, swimming alongside them and rubbing against them. The female will often reject the first advances, but the male persists, stroking her with his flippers and playfully rushing towards her at speed before swerving to avoid a collision at the last second. Mating is done in a face to face position and pregnancy lasts between ten months and a year. The calf (there is usually only one, though twins and even triplets have been recorded) is born tail first, and is about 1m long at birth. It will stay very close to its mother and be fed exclusively on her rich milk for the first six months of its life. As dolphins do not have soft, flexible lips, the calf cannot make an effective seal around its mother's teat. This means it cannot suck. So all females have specially adapted muscles that work actively to propel their milk out, into the mouths of their young.

Known and loved by many for their boisterous and playful behaviour, which includes somersaulting, leaping and bow-wave riding, dolphins can be serious pests to fishermen from whose nets they steal, damaging them in the process. This is not a risk free strategy for the dolphin, as some individuals inevitably become entangled and drown.

back to the top
Scorpion fish [Scorpaena scrofa]
Scorpion fish Spacer Scorpion fish generally live near the coast but some species can be found in deep waters. The particular species that lives in the waters around Chios can be found throughout the Mediterranean. Its range extends out into the Atlantic, round the coast of West Africa as far south as Senegal, and northwards to the southern
coast of England. Like most of its relations it has vivid coloration and striking patterns (including a pronounced black mark on its back) that provide effective daytime camouflage and make it hard to detect among the rocky crevices that it hides in during the day. Fleshy flaps of skin, that protrude from above its eyes and along the lower jaw, wave in the currents just like the surrounding weed and algae. A set of poisonous spines means that scorpion fish are one of the most dangerous animals that swimmers are likely to encounter. A puncture wound resulting from stepping on one can be very painful but is not life-threatening. Treatment is by application of heat which breaks down the protein-based venom. The venom is contained in a separate gland at the base of each spine on the dorsal, ventral and anal fins. Scorpion fish do not use this powerful weapon as a means of catching their prey but only as a defence. Hunting is done at night and by ambush. The fish remains motionless until something edible comes within its reach. Then a swift lunge and a wide mouth secure a meal of smaller fish that are swallowed whole. It will also take crustaceans and molluscs. A length of 30cms is usual but mature individuals can grow up to 50cms long. Scorpion fish lead solitary lives, only coming together to breed in late spring or early summer. S. scrofa releases a solid lump of mucous in which her eggs are embedded but other members of the family give birth to fully formed young after fertilization that has occurred within the female's body, making the scorpaenidae one of the rare families of fish some of whose members reproduce via copulation.
back to the top
Orchid [Ophrys sicula]
Orchid - photo: Mike Taylor Spacer This is one of the bee orchids, so called because their flowers typically mimic the appearance of a bee. For more information on bee orchids see the entry for Orchids in Spring.

Ophrys sicula - Overall plant height 5-40 cms. Carries 3-8 flowers per stem. In flower January – May. Found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Recorded in many locations on Chios

back to the top
Black widow spider [Latrodectus tredecimguttatus]
Black widow spider - photo: C Korlevic
Black widow spider - photo: F Tomasinelli
Spacer The Mediterranean black widow is found from Spain to Southwest and Central Asia. Well known for its neurotoxic venom this relatively small spider (the larger female is still only about 1.5cms long) can deliver a nasty bite that in a very few cases can prove fatal to humans. The venom causes painful muscle spasms within a few hours. Treatment is with calcium gluconate - a muscle relaxant administered by intravenous injection. As its Latin name suggests, the rounded black abdomen of the female is marked with thirteen red spots, making her easily recognisable and prominent. The male is markedly smaller, with a less obviously rounded abdomen and whitish markings.

This is a trap-building spider that uses a web with sticky
'trip wires' to catch its prey. Since it is almost blind it spends most of its life in the web, waiting to feel the vibrations make by its prey. The main part of the tangled web has a series of vertical trap threads extending downwards from it, to the ground. The silk is extremely strong and the vertical threads are sticky. Once they become entangled, the insect victims will be fearlessly attacked and subdued - even if they are larger than the spider itself. They will be bitten and poisoned and then wrapped in silk and sucked dry.

Breeding females make dens in small cracks or cavities in the ground or in farm buildings. These will be sealed off with a rather messy web. Black widows rarely venture inside human dwellings, though an abandoned mouse burrow may serve as a suitable site for a den. There her young will overwinter, emerging in the Spring to seek a mate. This dispersal from the nursery is achieved by a process known as 'ballooning'. A fine filament of web is released until it is long enough to be caught by the wind. Then the young spider is carried away to a new site.

Black widows reproduce sexually, with the male fertilizing the female's eggs while they are still inside her body. She can produce 4-5 egg sacs in one summer, each one containing about 50 eggs, though rarely more than half of her young survive, partly as a result of cannibalism. Female black widow spiders can live for up to three years, however the life span of males is much shorter - they only survive for about six months. This may have given rise to the widely held belief that the females kill the males after mating (hence the common name - black widow) but observations of behaviour in the wild do not support this view.

Back to Top | Links | | Site Map