Flora and Fauna
Rhodes is an island that has it all! A great climate, crystal clear water, a coastline of beaches, archaeological sites, a walled medieval town with its unique skyline telling the tale of the island’s history are but a few of its attractions. Of all the Greek islands it is possibly the most blessed by the Gods, with its rich mythology and history and by nature, with its outstanding flora and fauna. Due to its natural and manmade treasures this island is the pioneer of Greek tourism. It’s been in the mass market for a long time and has every service and every facility that tourists require nowadays.
What most visitors don’t realize, however, is that Rhodes keeps its best assets for its more discerning guests. Those who decide to steer clear of the island during its loud mid – summer madness, who, after wandering the medieval town and its maze of museums, medieval walls, churches and mosques, venture off into the real Rhodes, an island of striking wild flowers, tiny unique orchids, herbs and birds, rarely seen in their European habitats. Despite a spate of devastating forest fires the island still has a lot of areas of virgin pine forest, which are not featured in the guide books.
The island’s interior is mountainous, sparsely inhabited and covered with forests of pine: Pinus brutia and cypress: Cupressus sempervirens. Its rocks, limestone and schist, form a mountain backbone in the west – center of the island. While its shores are rocky, and in some areas sandy, the island has arable strips of land where citrus fruits, wine grapes, vegetables, olives and other crops are grown.
Rhodes has a Mediterranean climate, mild winters, hot summers and an average of 300+ ( 342 ) sunny days a year. This climate, together with Rhodes’ natural features and its location, provide a diversity of fauna and flora ranging from the rare and unique to common and even endangered species.
Orchid lovers from around the world, come to Rhodes to admire a treasure that just a few people know about. Scientists say there are 72 species of this wonderful flower on the island. Orchids bloom from February to May, with the most common and important, being the Genus Ophrys.
The island has a growing number of wild fallow deer, a rare breed of miniature horses, the protected Gizani freshwater fish a valley of butterflies ( Petaloudes ). Conifers, Plane oaks, Oaks, Thyme, Capers, Cyclamens and many other wild flowers are typical of its flora.
The fallow deer ( Dama dama ) is a type of deer from the Cervidae family. The animal originally lived in Eurasia, though it has been identified living in other parts of the world, such as Australia. They are grazing animals, which prefer to live in an area, mixed with woodland and open grassland. They try to stay together in groups of up to 150. The Dama – Dama Deer is a protected species, which you will only find in the island of Rhodes. It lives in the pine and cypress forest, where it can find water to consume throughout the year.
The male is called a buck, the female is a doe, and the young a fawn and they live for about 12 – 16 years. Known locally as Platoni, the Fallow Deer ( Dama Dama ) is smaller in size than other deer, standing at 1m tall, measuring between 1.6 and 1.9m in length and weighing approximately 40 – 80kg. Only the bucks have antlers which are broad and shovel – shaped. Their coat, which during the summer is brown with white mottles, darkens during the winter. The tail is reaches 16 – 19 cm in length and has a black tip.
There are many legends as to how this deer became a part of the island’s fauna, the strongest of which supports that they have been in Rhodes since the 6th century BC. Back then, the island was named “Elafousa”, after the many deer living there.
Another interesting legend states that, the deer were brought to Rhodes by the Crusaders during Medieval times, in order to protect their camps from the snakes. Although the deer do not kill snakes, their horns produce a smelly substance, making the snakes to turn away.
Considered for many years as one of the island’s symbols, the Rhodian Fallow Deer, which inhabit the forests and form part of the island’s legends, is one of the few European deer species that have survived until today. Gracing the entrance to the city’s old harbor Mandraki, each atop a column, stand two bronze deer, one buck and one doe.
Another rarity of the island is the freshwater fish, known by its common name “Gizani”, or the scientific term «Ladigesocypris ghigii – Pisces Cyprinidae», which was given by the Italian professor Alessandro Ghigi, who discovered the “Gizani” in the waters of Rhodes in 1900. It is a tiny fish with maximum length of approximately 10 – 12 cm, and has the reputation of a durable organism that can cope with abrupt climate changes, for instance, very low temperatures during the winter or very high during the summer. It lives for a relatively short time of about 3 years and feeds on a wide variety of foods.
The “Gizani” is an endangered species protected by both Greek and European legislation. The main reason for extinction is the summer drought and the scarce water that remains in the streams of Rhodes during the summer months. So, although it has a sturdy body, the population of the fish decreases rapidly during the summer, even though it is reproduced during both spring and summer.
The “Gizani” has appeared in several areas of Rhodes, especially in streams and springs, as in the river Loutanis, the river Gadouras, the streams of Asklipios and Eleousas water tank, the stream of Argiros, the dam of Apolakkia, the natural lake of the Dwarves and the streams of Haraki, Makaris in Lardos, Kremasti and Paradisi. Today the “Gizani” population has disappeared from the lake of the Dwarves and the artificial lake of Apolakkia.
Nature honored the island by hosting in its inland waters, a beautiful, unique fish, which is now an endangered species. As residents and enthusiasts of this region, we have to raise awareness and protect the “Gizani” of Rhodes from the malicious human factors, which threaten its existence.
Pony of Rhodes
And of course, our little ponies! The ponies of Rhodes are a descendant of an ancient breed. They are small species as their height does not exceed 80 – 115cm. They have excellent physique, perfect proportions and rich hair in mane and tail. The morphological characteristics of this small horse are similar to the corresponding characteristics of the large horse breeds. Various findings on display at the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes testify that horses have existed on the island since ancient times. Their complete recording was made by the Italians during the Italian occupation of the island. In fact, the Italians constructed the camp of the famous “Cavallino” where they engaged in the breeding of Rhodes breed horses, in order to set up a cavalry for military purposes. Before the war, horse demonstrations were organized in an exhibition space near the current casino in the city of Rhodes. According to the testimonies of the inhabitants of Archangelos Rhodes, the Rhodes breed horses, numbered about 150 in 1950, gradually their contribution to agricultural production was minimized resulting in the horses being left free in the mountainous area. Due to the unfavorable living conditions and persecutions suffered by the breeders in the area, these animals were decimated. In 2000 only a herd of six horses remained on the mountain. Today the Horse is protected and its population has risen slightly…
The Peacocks a must see spectacle, while visiting Rhodes. Living in the Rodini Park, the oldest park in the world, distinguished for its dense and diverse vegetation, the bridges, the ponds full of water lilies and the wonderful paths, composing the idyllic landscape, complemented by rare plants and a small zoo, the peacocks are free to roam the area and show off their plumage to the visitors. Gentle and fully conversant with the human presence in the park, they will be gladly get some food off of your hands if you offer. Just be sure to be quick with getting the photos. Peafowl is also a common name for three bird species in the pheasants and their allies. Male peafowl are referred to as peacocks, and female peafowl are referred to as peahens, even though peafowl of either sex are often referred as peacocks. Peacocks are known for their piercing calls and their extravagant plumage. The latter, which have an eye – spotted “tail” or “train” of covert feathers, displaying it as part of the courtship ritual. The functions of the elaborate iridescent coloration of peacocks, have been the subject of extensive scientific debate. Charles Darwin suggested that they served to attract females, and the showy features of the males had evolved by sexual selection.
The butterflies like it quiet! The Valley of the Butterflies ( Petaloudes ) is another landmark of the island of Rhodes. A unique nature reserve, the “Zitia” tree, which is found in a few parts of the Mediterranean, hosts millions of butterflies, which peacefully hang in the shadowy wet paths it creates with the brook, occasionally transforming into lakes and small waterfalls. These trees secrete special substances, thus attracting the butterflies and making the valley a breeding place for them.
During August, thousands of butterflies of the genus Panaxia ( species Quadripunctaria Poda ) swarm into the valley in order to reproduce. During the rainy period, still in the caterpillar stage, they remain in the Mediterranean thicket ( arbutus, myrtle and rush ) feeding on the foliage. Approaching the end of the wet season and towards the end of May, the final stage of the transformation is concluded and the butterfly, in all her perfection and glory, makes her debut. Moving constantly towards high humidity areas, and following the water ways as the dry period progresses, they finally arrive at the valley.
Unfortunately, over the last few years the population of the Panaxia butterfly has been constantly in decline, due to several factors, one of the most important being the disturbance by visitors. The butterfly has an atrophic peptic system, meaning has no stomach. From May until the mating period ( for the males ), and until the egg lying period ( for the females ) they do not eat. They survive from the energy stored from their previous lives as caterpillars. The disturbance of visitors is forcing the butterflies to fly all day, consuming valuable energy. Visitors should not be denied the enjoyment of viewing the butterflies at rest, but it is prohibited to disturb them in any way ( hand clapping, whistling etc ). This dense flora habitat and its breathtaking natural beauty, along with the bridge structures which coexist harmoniously with the environment, the paved paths, the ponds, the small inexhaustible waterfalls and the serene atmosphere, create a unique experience for the visitors. The only sound that can heard there, is the chirping of the cicadas and the murmuring of the cool water. At the time of visiting, the butterflies sleep on the shady sides of the tree logs, or around their roots. The sight of the colony itself is magical, but if the butterflies are awake, they form a very impressive cloud, as it reveals the orange color of their feathers.
An excellent place for families with children who wish to enjoy the beauties of nature and examine the life cycle of butterflies as part of their summer holiday.