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Wildlife

Diversity and preservation of wildlife

The research conducted to date shows that the fauna of Mt. Biokovo is distinctive and diverse, even though it has not yet been sufficiently studied. A large number of endemic and Tertiary relicts have survived in the Biokovo area, thanks to the fact that this part of Europe was mostly free of ice cover during the Tertiary age.

Invertebrates

Invertebrates

Regardless of the many researchers, the invertebrate fauna of Mt. Biokovo is still poorly known today. More detailed research has been conducted on the earthworms, millipedes, ground beetles and saproxylic beetles, butterflies and moths, and the sawflies. There are systematised data for the butterflies and moths, while there are individual published papers for certain other groups of fauna.


Beetles (Coleoptera)

The beetles are one of the largest groups of invertebrates. The large number of species and their diversity in body size and structure have enabled beetles to thrive in virtually every ecological niche. They are found on all continents, except Antarctica. They are adapted for life in nearly all terrestrial and freshwater habitats, and some species are also found in brackish waters. They are found in areas of extreme conditions where the daily temperature and humidity oscillate dramatically, such as in the deserts, or in habitats that are poor in organic matter and light, like the subterranean habitats.

The first sporadic research of the beetle fauna on Mt. Biokovo was conducted in the early 20th century, and over the years, several studies of the beetles of this area were conducted as part of regular park activities. The most comprehensive list of beetles collected in the Biokovo area was made by Petar Novak, a Croatian entomologist, who published the findings that he collected or cited reports of other foreign researchers who had published a find from Biokovo, such as J. Müller, K. A. Penecke, J. Roubal, L. Mader and others.

To date, 295 beetle species have been reported here, of which 189 species are saproxylic. In the Mt. Biokovo area, there are four species of saproxylic beetles that are also listed in Appendix II of the Habitats Directive (Natura 2000 species), and these have been listed as qualification species for this area. These are the great capricorn beetle (Cerambyx cerdo), Morimus funereus, rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina) and the European stag beetle (Lucanus cervus). Recent research has revealed the presence of a fifth species from Annex II, the hermit beetle (Osmoderma eremita).

There are many near threatened species found in the Biokovo area. These are the longhorn beetles: Cerambyx cerdo, Cerambyx miles, Cerambyx nodulosus, Ropalopus insubricus and Stenurella septempunctata; the flower chafers: Osmoderma eremita, Protaetia aeruginosa and Protaetia fieberi; the click beetles: Brachygonus megerlei and Crepidophorus mutilatus, one stag beetle species, Lucanus cervus; and one darkling beetle species, Pentaphyllus chrysomeloides. For the click beetle species Crepidophorus mutilatus, Biokovo is just the second recent find in Croatia. The highest threat category has been assigned to the variable chafer Gnorimus variabilis, categorised as vulnerable, while two species are currently listed as data deficient: the longhorn beetle species Purpuricenus globulicollis and the flower chafer species Protaetia affinis.

Research of the Biokovo beetle fauna has discovered many rare and significant species. Some beetle species are known to live here that for decades have not been recorded anywhere else in Croatia. For example, two click beetle species were described based on specimens from Croatia, though to this day we know very little about them. The first is Anostirus dalmatinus, found only in Croatia and part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but was not recorded in Croatia since the mid-20th century. However, it has been reported present in the peak zone of Mt. Biokovo. The second species is a click beetle, Dima dalmatina, distributed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, which was last recorded in Croatia some 20 years ago. However, several individuals have recently been located in the peak zone of Mt. Biokovo.

Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera)

The butterflies and moths are among the most widely researched invertebrates in the area of Biokovo Nature Park. Research began in the 1920s and has been continuous to the present day. The diversity of butterflies and moths on Mt. Biokovo is very high, due to the large elevation differences, vast diversity of microhabitats, and the influences of the Mediterranean climate on the southern parts of the mountain. Butterflies and moths are most often categorised by their time of flight, into butterflies (active by day) and moths (active by night).

Butterflies

Research to date has recorded 116 species of butterflies in the Biokovo area, accounting for 58% of the Croatian butterfly fauna. The butterfly composition varies significantly depending on the elevation, habitat and exposition.

The peak areas of Mt. Biokovo are a refuge for colder climate species that retreated gradually from the lowland areas following the last ice age. Here in the peak areas, we can find isolated populations of montane species such as the black ringlet (Erebia melas), Hungarian glider (Neptis rivularis), clouded apollo (Parnassius mnemosynae) and the marbled skipper (Carcharodus lavatherae).

A species of the former steppe grasslands (Proterebia afra dalmata = Proterebia phegea dalmata) still survives in the northern areas of Mt. Biokovo, which are now rocky pastures. This subspecies is found exclusively in Dalmatia and a small part of Herzegovina, and the nearest known population is found in Greece. It is categorised as a near threatened species, and it is most threatened by the overgrowth of open karst pastures.

Many thermophilic butterfly species are found on the southern slopes of Mt. Biokovo. Here we find the plant Hercules’ all-heal (Opopanax chironium), on whose flowers the southern swallowtail (Papilio alexanor) lays its eggs. This is one of the largest and rarest butterflies in Croatia. Until recently, it was considered to have completely disappeared from the Croatian territory, though recent research has confirmed its presence in several historical locations, including the southern slopes of Mt. Biokovo.

One of the most interesting and potentially controversial species present in the Biokovo area is the eastern festoon (Zerynthia cerisyi dalmacijae). This endemic subspecies was described in the area of Podgora, near the park boundaries, in 1994. No adult specimens have been found in nature; instead, caterpillars were collected and raised to give several generations that formed the basis of the description of this subspecies. However, subsequent field research never recorded any specimens, and therefore it is possible that there was an error in naming the location from which the caterpillars were collected. However, there is also the possibility that there is a cryptic population of this species somewhere in Croatia. The nearest known population is found in the Neretva River valley in Bosnia and Herzegovina; however, that population is very isolated and distant from other known populations of this species.

Moths

The moths are far more numerous than the butterflies, with some 3000 species estimated to live in Croatia. They are most often divided into two groups, the large moths (Macrolepidoptera) and small moths (Microlepidoptera). Most research of moths is focused on the larger moths, and these are also the better studied species in Biokovo Nature Park. The precise number of known species in the park area is yet to be defined, though preliminary research suggests a very high diversity of 164 species of geometer moths and 263 species of owlet moths. The smaller moths (Microlepidoptera) have been studied far less, and according to the available data, there are 71 species belonging to the superfamily Pyraloidea.

Many moth species in the Biokovo area are distinctive, with somewhat different wing colouration than other populations in other parts of Croatia and Europe. This is usually an adaptation to substrate colouration, in this case limestone rock as the most widespread habitat in the peak zone of the nature park. This is particularly visible in many of the genera of the owlet moths (Noctuidae) and geometer moths (Geometridae).

Among the interesting owlet moths, Chersotis laeta leonhardi was just recently discovered to be present in Croatia, and currently the only known population is found in the peak zone of Mt. Biokovo. Recent genetic studies have indicated that this subspecies is in fact a separate taxon that should be classified as a species.

Among the tiger moth subfamily (Arctiinae) one of the most significant species is Epatolmis luctifera. This very local and rare species has few localities in Croatia. It inhabits open habitats and the caterpillars feed on low, herbaceous plants such as lady’s bedstraw.

Recent research of the peak zone of Mt. Biokovo also recorded the presence of the species Hyles vespertilio, which has not been recorded in Croatia for more than 100 years. It is considered a rare species of sphinx moth throughout Europe, and in some countries is considered endangered to the brink of extinction.

Further detailed field research of Biokovo Nature Park is sure to increase the number of known species of butterflies and moths, and the description of previously unknown species to science can also be expected.

Subterranean fauna

The subterranean fauna is particularly interesting due to the many endemic species. Recent systematic research as part of a project to conduct inventory of the park revealed a fascinating subterranean fauna in the many Biokovo caves and pits.

To date, 240 true cave organisms (troglobionts and stigobionts) have been recorded, and of these 87 taxa are endemic to Biokovo.

Nearly half of the cave species are found only on Mt. Biokovo. Among them are numerous relict species, popularly called living fossils. These once lived on the surface long ago in the geological past, and following changes in the climate were lost from their original habitats; some of these taxa survived in small, isolated areas called refugia, and over time adapted to living underground. Their relatives have long since gone extinct or are found in Africa or other distant, usually southern places. However, due to their specificities, the underground world of Mt. Biokovo has provided a back-up habitat both for species originating from warmer periods, and for glacial species from cooler periods.

Descending into a pit opens up a whole new magical world of the Biokovo endemic species: subterranean beetles, pseudoscorpions, spiders, millipedes and centipedes. In addition to being rare and endemic, many of these species are distinctive for their size, representing true giants among their relatives. The cave snails crawl along the wet cave walls. From the species Zospeum amoneum, barely a millimetre long, to the transparent, round snails of the genus Vitrea, the pointed cave snail Spelaeoconcha paganettii to the astounding slugs that still have a little shell (Semilimacidae). During research of the mountain’s deepest pit, Amfora, the leech Dina absoloni was discovered, and it is still unknown what it feeds on in the energy-impoverished underground. Terrestrial isopods of the order Alpioniscus are found on the wet cave ornaments, while in lower and warmer caves, the species Strouhaloniscus dalmaticus hangs on tight to the rock face like a limpet. In the drip pools and underground lakes, we find the endemic cave crustacean, Niphargus buturovici. The Biokovo pseudoscorpions are fascinating, both in number with some 20 cave species, and in size. The species Protoneobisium biokovense, Neobisium maderi and Neobisium peruni are the largest species in the world. One of the largest cave spiders, Stalagtia hercegovinensis, seeks out its prey on the wet cave ornaments, a true Tyrannosaurus amongst the tiny cave animals. In the cave Tučepska vilenjača, its much smaller relative Mesostalita comotti has been described. On the spider webs, particularly in the entrance section of caves, we find numerous species of sheet weaver spiders (Lyniphidae) hanging upside down on the web. Among them is the rare, relict species, Typhlonyphia reimoseri. One of the largest predators in the Biokovo underground is the 2 cm long cave centipede of the order Lithobius that is yet to be scientifically described. Among the millipedes (Diplopoda) there are many species endemic to Biokovo, and the most interesting is the species Biokoviella mauriesi. The largest European millipede, Apfelbeckia hessei, is impressive in size.

The beetles are widely represented in the underground habitats of Mt. Biokovo. In all, 18 species have been recorded, and of these 17 are endemic, with five genera and 13 species endemic to Mt. Biokovo. Deserving of special mention is the ground beetle Biokovoaphaenopsis radici, found only in the ice pits on the Biokovo plateau, and the tiny relict species Lovricia aenigmatica whose discovery surprised experts, and its relative Neolovricia ozimeci. Here we find the largest underground beetle Speoplanes giganteus biocovensis, while only in the deepest pits can we find the underground beetle Radziella styx, specialised in filtering water. The cave crickets (Orthoptera) come out of the caves at night in search of prey, and there are three genera on the mountain: Dolichopoda, Troglophilus and Grylomorpha. In the summer, the caves are home to the caddisflies (Trichoptera), as glacial relicts that mate only in the ice pits, while in summer and winter we find the butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), and the parasitic fungus Cordiceps riverae that feeds on them as they hibernate.

Among the largest organisms, the alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), resembling a small black crow, nests in the deeper pits, while at dusk, bats fly out of the pits. A larger colony has been discovered in an ice pit above Brela. In this relatively small area, highly structured faunal complexes of exceptional biological value are found at minimal distances from one another. The subterranean fauna of Mt. Biokovo makes it a biodiversity hotspot, and one of the centres of endemism of cave biodiversity of Croatia and the Dinarides mountain range.

Amphibians and reptiles

The amphibian and reptile diversity of Biokovo Nature Park is well known. To date, the literature lists seven species of amphibians and 21 reptile species for the park area. Of these, three amphibian and 16 reptile species are strictly protected under the Ordinance on strictly protected species (OG 144/13, 73/16), and any intention capture or killing, disturbance, holding or selling of any other their development forms is prohibited. The first record of amphibians dates back to 1842 when zoologist Kuster recorded the presence of the European green toad (Bufotes viridis) in the Mt. Biokovo foothills, and over the years, several surveys have been conducted on the amphibian and reptile fauna of this area within the regular park activities.

Amphibians (Amphibia)

There are seven species of amphibians in the park area. The species diversity of amphibians is lower than that of reptiles, as expected in the Mediterranean area, since amphibians need water to complete their life cycle, and water and water bodies are limited in this area.

There are two species of salamanders and newts: the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), while the remaining species in the park area are frogs and toads: the common toad (Bufo bufo) and the European green toad (Bufo viridis), in addition to the European tree frog (Hyla arborea), marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) and the yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata).

Reptiles (Reptilia)

There are 10 species of lizard present on Mt. Biokovo. The most significant species is certainly the Mosor rock lizard (Dinarolacerta mosorensis), first reported by Kolombatović in 1887, one year after he described this species from Mt. Mosor. This is also the only stenoendemic lizard to the Dinarides. The Biokovo area is one of two recent localities where this species is present in Croatia, and features the largest habitat complex that supports this species. The lowest elevation where this species is found in the park is at 1342 metres, while there are literature reports of lower finds at 1200 metres (Schmidtler, 1999), while the highest localities are around Mt. Biokovo’s highest peak, St. George (Sv. Jure). The same habitat is home to the wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) and the Dalmatian wall lizard (Podarcis melisellensis), though the most similar lizard to the Mosor rock lizard in the park area is the sharp-snouted lizard (Dalmatolacerta oxycephala) that is found at lower elevations. Here we also find the European legless lizard (Pseudopodus apodus), which is often confused for a snake. The largest lizards are the green lizards, and there are two species on Biokovo: European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) and the Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata).

There are 10 species of snakes in the park area. Some of the most attractive snakes in Croatia are found here, such as the Dahl’s whip snake (Platyceps najadum), European rat snake (Zamenis situla) and the European cat snake (Telescopus fallax); however, the species that stands out the most is the only venomous species in this area, the nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes). The nose-horned viper is a widely distributed species in the Mediterranean region, though this is a species that should be respected with caution, as its venom can be lethal. If you come across this snake while hiking through Mt. Biokovo, do not approach it or pick it up, instead bang your feet or sticks on the ground and allow it to retreat into its shelter. Should you have contact with the snake and be bitten, you should urgently go to a medical facility where physicians will determine the appropriate treatment. One of the most common species that people come across, and that is not venomous or dangerous to humans, is the Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis), which can be seen at lower elevations and in the settlements, and on the mountain.

The only turtle species present in the park area is the Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni).

Birds (Aves)

More than 110 bird species have been recorded in the Mt. Biokovo area, and of these more than 70 are nesting species. The remainder use this area during feeding, overwintering or as a resting area during migration. Due to the large elevation span with a diversity of habitats, bird species range from typically Mediterranean species such as the Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanocephala), to montane species such as the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), and alpine species such as the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris). The strictly protected alpine accentor is present in small numbers as a nesting bird of the highest peaks. The beech forests, filled with old, hollow and dry trees, are habitat for the strictly protected white-backed woodpecker, a target species of the ecological network. The steep cliffs are the nesting grounds of the western rock nuthatch (Sitta neumayer), blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius) and western black-eared wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica), all strictly protected species. Two other strictly protected species and target species of the ecological network, the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) also nest on these cliffs, and can fly many kilometres from the nest in search of food. The golden eagle is a critically endangered species in Croatia; it has a low population density and about a third of pairs are not reproductively active. It is also common for one eagle to wait for a suitable partner for years, guarding the territory in the meantime. In the period from 2007 to 2019, only two pairs of golden eagles and four territories were recorded in the broader area of Mt. Biokovo. The strictly protected Eurasian eagle-owl is a resident, nesting species of the Mt. Biokovo area, and is also a target species of the ecological network. It nests on inaccessible cliffs, and hunts in the edge areas of the park. The strictly protected northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a resident nesting bird in the large complex of fir forests on the northern slopes near Kaoc, though its numbers are low. The strictly protected Eurasian sparrowhawk (Accipiter nissus) is present in small numbers and nests on the Zagora (inland) side of the mountain, usually near settlements. The abundant alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) nests in the caves and pits, and seeks out food in large flocks on the mountain grasslands and coastal slopes. The short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus) is a migratory nesting bird that flies over the Biokovo area, usually spending time on the southern slopes and nesting in the trees. The European honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) is an abundant migratory bird that is seen here during the spring and autumn migrations. Both of these species are strictly protected and target species of the ecological network. The ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortulana) is a nesting migratory bird of the mosaic habitats, and its population has declined substantially in this area. During 2013, only 3 – 4 singing males were recorded in the Saranač area, while six years later in 2019, only 2 singing males were counted. The remaining population is small and dysfunctional and faces imminent extinction. The red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) is a common nesting migratory bird that nests in the grasslands at elevations up to 1500 metres. Both of these are target species of the ecological network. Flyover species that are both strictly protected and target species of the ecological network are the common crane (Grus grus), appearing in large flocks during the migration, and the hen harrier (Circus cyaneus), occasionally stopping over here, seeking prey over the open habitats. Other nesting birds that are target species of the ecological network are: tawny pipit (Anthus campestris), European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius) and grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus), which are strictly protected, and the woodlark (Lullula arborea) and rock partridge (Alectoris graeca).

Mammals (Mammalia)

In the contact zone at the lower elevations of Mt. Biokovo, the northern white-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus) hibernates for the winter. Most of its activity is spent in search of food, and it is active by night. The Etruscan pygmy shrew (Suncus etruscus), just 4.5 cm long, is found at elevations up to 650 metres. The lesser white-toothed shrew (Crocidura suaveolens) is found at the contact zones at lower elevations, while the bicoloured shrew (C. leucodon) is found from 650 to 1650 m in elevation. A specificity of the Mt. Biokovo fauna is the common shrew (Sorex araneus) and the Eurasian pygmy shrew (S. minutus) that are representatives of continental communities but here are present in the peak areas in the beech forests, forming a type of ‘island’ population (Tvrtković & Kletečki, 1993).

The initial research of the park area recorded the presence of 12 bat species: serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus), Savi’s pipistrelle (Hypsugo savii), common bent-wing bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), lesser mouse-eared bat (Myotis blythii), Geoffrey’s bat (M. emarginatus), whiskered bat (M. mystacinus), Natterer’s bat (M. nattereri), Kuhl’s pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), Blasius’ horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus blasii), greater horseshoe bat (R. ferrumequinum), lesser horseshoe bat (R. hipposideros), and the European free-tailed bat (Tadarida teniotis) (Tvrtković & Kletečki, 1993; Domazetović, 2002; Mazija & Domazetović, 2003). Samples of the genus Plecotus found on Mt. Biokovo (at Stara Škola, Amfora, Podglogovik) were later determined to belong to the alpine long-eared bat (Plecotus macrobullaris) (Tvrtković et al., 2005). Further research is required to revise the status of the Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii); this is a target species of the ecological network, as is the common bent-wing bat. According to the literature, this species was recorded in spring 2005 at the watering hole near Turija (Pavlinić et al., 2010). Other important findings include the greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis) that has been recorded multiple times (Pavlinić et al., 2010; Bekker et al., 2012). The Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale) has been reported in the Baba cave in the park (Marković, 1984) and in the contact zone in the largest cave in Antunovići using an ultrasonic bat detector (Ozimec et al., 2010). This brings the final species count of bats in the Mt. Biokovo area to 16, and all these bat species are strictly protected.

The Dalmatian garden dormouse (Eliomis quercinus dalmaticus) is an endemic subspecies of rodent that has not yet undergone molecular testing. It is distributed from the completely bare rocky grounds to the karst forests, in the coastal part of Mt. Biokovo from 50 to about 1400 metres in elevation.

Excellent climbers that are common in the contact zones in the park are the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and the European fat dormouse (Glis glis).

The Balkan snow vole (Dinaromys bogdanovi) is an endemic species and Tertiary relict of the Dinaric karst ecosystems, and stands out as a distinctive feature of the Croatian natural heritage. It lives on karst rocky grounds, mostly at higher elevations. It is strictly protected and a target species of the ecological network. In the Red Book of Mammals of Croatia, it was categorised as data deficient, while at the global level, it is categorised as vulnerable. The lifespan is about 4 years, it achieves sexual maturity at 2 years, bringing forth only 4 offspring during its life. It belongs to an old genetic line, and its closest relatives are fossil species. These rocky habitats are also inhabited by the western broad-toothed field mouse (Apodemus epimelas) while the wood mouse (A. sylvaticus) prefers habitats with trees and shrubs.

The European hare (Lepus europaeus) is distributed throughout the entire area of Mt. Biokovo.

The wolf (Canis lupus) is a carnivore species present here, and is both strictly protected and a potentially endangered target species of the ecological network. At the lower elevations the wolf is not present, so instead there are occasional reports of golden jackal (C. aureus) which is a game species that is hunted by the local hunting societies. Other carnivores are the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), least weasel (Mustela nivalis), European polecat (M. putorius), beech marten (Martes foina) and the European badger (Meles meles). There is also a report of sporadic sightings of European pine marten (Martes martes) in the area of Silnji gozda that was not previously documented (Šabić, 1993). The strictly protected wildcat (Felis silvestris) is also found here, and in recent years there have been sporadic reports of the strictly protected and potentially endangered brown bear (Ursus arctos).

On the rocky cliffs of Mt. Biokovo, the potentially endangered Balkan chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra balcanica) is a common species that was introduced here in 1964. Even though genetic analyses clearly indicate that there is a Balkan subspecies of the chamois on Mt. Biokovo, it has not officially been recognised as a subspecies, and due to its unresolved status, it is considered a game species as the alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), even though it should be protected by law. Two years later, the European mouflon (Ovis musimon) was introduced here. A very common species is the wild boar (Sus scrofa) which has reproduced widely in the Biokovo area.