For such a small country, Italy hosts an extensive array of plant species, as well as a considerable number of peculiar ecosystems (ecosistemi).

By Claudia Quesito

For such a small country, Italy hosts an extensive array of plant species, as well as a considerable number of peculiar ecosystems (ecosistemi). Il Belpaese boasts the highest level of biodiversity in Europe. In fact, half of Europe’s vegetal species and one-third of its animal species are found in Italy. The country is basically a bridge between Northern Africa and Europe. It is also very well connected to Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and beyond, plus it has a rich geological structure. 

Endemic animal species

As for endemic animal species, there are 4,777 animals that are found only in Italy. Among them are il camoscio appenninico, la salamandrina dagli occhiali, l’orecchione sardo, and il saettone occhirossi, just to name a very few (some of which have the bonus point of super cute names) in the ecosistemi.

Il camoscio appenninico, or d’Abruzzo (Apennine or Abruzzo chamois), is a mountain mammal only found in central Italy. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was highly endangered. With only thirty individuals still surviving, and a single especially harsh winter could have wiped away the entire species. Luckily, this did not happen, and today more than 2,000 can be found in the national parks of Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise.

Heading a little southwest, in the same mountain chain, but in a different, shadier, and more humid ecosystem, lives La salamandrina dagli occhiali (the spectacled salamander). It has four toes instead of the usual five found in other salamanders. It’s brown-black with a creamy V-shaped mark between the eyes that resembles a pair of glasses, and its presence signals environmental health.

More species

L’orecchione sardo (Sardinian long-eared bat) is a tiny bat endemic to Sardinia that has gigantic ears—hence the cute name—joined above the forehead by a thin membrane. It was first discovered in 2002 and as far as we know only lives in three caves on the island; it’s therefore listed as “vulnerable.”

Finally, il saettone occhirossi (red-eyed racer) is a nonpoisonous snake endemic to Sicily and Southern Italy that owes its name to the color of its iris—red, indeed—and to its speed; saettone is a modified form of saetta (flash or lightning bolt).

Like everywhere else in the world, these animals of the ecosistemi are better found and observed after the sun sets when the land briefly becomes the animals’ own again. Or, you can always look them up on the internet!

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