“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Ios is more than just another place to visit. It is a refuge of nature. We present some environmental-related information on our area (local animal habitats, native plant species and landscape) to help to deepen your geographical understanding of the island of Ios.
The blue, clear waters of the Aegean host important marine habitats, such as the meadows of Poseidonia and the unique coral reefs. Marine mammals such as the Mediterranean seal Monachus Monachus, the common dolphins Delphinus Delphis and the sea turtles Caretta Caretta swim in the Cycladic waters. To the surprise of many, the Cycladic islands are home to animals like badgers and whales. However, the number of living mammals in general is small. Most of these animals are nocturnal so as to avoid humans, including the local islanders! The following are some examples of wildlife that live here in Ios and other Cycladic islands.
The hedgehog is one of the most common mammals in the Cyclades. They are active and move usually during the night when looking for food; they feed on insects, snails, worms, lizards, snakes and plants.
Bats are the only mammals that are capable of real flight. They are typically nocturnal animals and therefore rarely observed in daylight. They feed on insects that they grab in the air. The islanders call them ‘nychterides’, from the ancient name for night creatures. The small bat is the most common species of bats in the Aegean islands. They are observed more widely in Syros. The bat species is under threat in the Cyclades due to the overall degradation of the natural environment in which they live such as caves.
Active, particularly at dusk as well as during the night, the wild rabbit can sometimes be seen during the day. It digs labyrinthine tunnels into the ground where it hides and bears its young. The period of breeding in the Mediterranean countries begins during the winter and ends late in the spring.
While widespread in mainland Greece, badgers are rarely seen in the Cyclades (mainly in the islands of Tinos, Andros and Sifnos). It moves and searches for food during the night, leaving characteristic traces. The badger eats almost everything it finds: herbs, fruits, nuts, seeds, snails to rabbits, chicks.
Ferrets are particularly populous in Andros. They have a uniform, dark brown colour and are usually active during the night. Ferrets nest in cracks of rocks and openings of the ground or between stones, very often in villages and towns. Although it moves mainly on the ground, it can climb very skilfully.
Mediterranean Monk Seal
The Mediterranean Monk seal is one of the rarest and most endangered species of mammals all over the world. In 1994, the total population in the Cyclades was extremely low: (385–505). Important populations worldwide have been recorded in the island complex of Kimolos-Polyaigos in the Cyclades. In Greece, this seal was not always rare; there were once significant seal populations in the Ionian Islands, the Corinthian Gulf, the coasts of the Peloponnese, of East Greece, in Crete, Evia, the Cyclades, the northern and the eastern Aegean. The Mediterranean Monk Seal is a large animal that can reach 3.80 m in length, but usually ranges around 2.20 m and weighs up to 230 kilos. Males tend to be darker and females often have white or yellowish spots on the underside of the body. The basic coloration can be brown, black, silver or grey, with or without lighter spots on the underside of the body. However, both totally white and totally black individuals have been found. The diet of the Mediterranean Monk Seal includes fish, octopuses and lobsters. The life of the Monk Seal is estimated at 30–35 years. You can read about the conservation of the monk seal in Northern Cyclades here.
Wild Goat of Eremolilos (Ibex)
The Ibex goat is characterised by a reddish-brown colour and the black spots of the body. Nowadays the Wild Goats of Eremomilos are protected, although the conditions on the island, with the lack of surface water, are not the most favourable. The Wild Goat is an ancestor of today’s domestic goat and looks much like it. The Wild Goats live in groups where the males make a strong presence during the mating season late in the autumn and winter. They feed on a wide variety of plants either by grazing or cutting leaves and stems from the trees, resting on the hind legs and standing up.
The Lillte Crocodile Laudacia stellio is located on the islands of Delos, Naxos, Paros and Antiparos.
The Cycladic islands are a place of transit for millions of migratory birds travelling to and from Africa every spring and autumn. Especially in the spring, the islands are an important resting and supply place as they arrive tired, hungry and dehydrated having crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean. The small wetlands of Tinos, the wetland of Serifos, the lagoon of Aliki in Naxos, the lake and the salt pans of Milos, the wetlands of Paros and Antiparos and the wetlands of Patmos are very important for migratory birds.
Seabirds use the open sea as their habitat where they feed, mate and sleep. They come ashore only to nest on isolated islets, which offer them safety without land predators. The Audouin’s Gull is the only gull found exclusively in the Mediterranean, a symbol of the islets.
Eleonora’s Falcon or Varvaki, as the residents of the Aegean islands call it, nests in colonies on small islets (or on steep rocky coasts), and every morning it begins to fly over the sea to feed and bring food to its young. The special feature of that bird that makes it unique in the world is the fact that Eleonora’s Falcon is the only predator that has specialised in exclusively hunting migratory birds over the sea. 70% of the world’s population is found in the islands of the Aegean, where it finds abundant food, winds that facilitate hunting, and isolated islets without land predators to nest.
Native Plant Species
Despite the seemingly barren and rocky landscapes and the relatively poor vegetation of the islands, there are more than 1,600 species of plants in the Cyclades, of which over 200 are rare or endangered endemic species. Thanks to the Cycladic microclimate, you can find many indigenous plants and herbs, along with vines and olives, in Ios with specific characteristics. Many of these plants provide intense flavour and taste to food.
The following is the most common flora to be found in Ios:
Greeks and Romans held oregano as a symbol of joy and happiness. In Ios, the dry climate, the sea and sun develop unique flavors of oregano. The warm, balsamic and aromatic flavor of oregano makes it the perfect addition to Mediterranean cuisine. In foods and beverages, oregano is used as a culinary spice and a food preservative.
Fennel is an aromatic and flavorful herb with culinary and medicinal uses and, along with the similar-tasting anise, is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. Dried fennel seeds are often used in cooking as an anise-flavoured spice.
The plant is best known for the edible dark green flower buds (capers) and the fruit (caper berries), both of which are usually consumed pickled. It is grown during summer on rocks, along the stone land near sea with strong sunlight and humidity. The Cyclades islands are the ideal place for this plant. Given its salted nature, it is often used as a seasoning or garnish.
Ios has an abundance of wild thyme. It is considered one of the best foods for bees and the honey produced as a result is often excellent quality. Wild thyme was the symbol of ancient Greek gods Ares and Aphrodite who represented power, war and love. They used thyme to add aroma to cheese and wine. They used it also as a mild sedative drink that empowered their health and also used to burn thyme to repel poisonous reptiles and scorpions. Thyme gives fragrance to olive oil, olives, pickles, vinegar, salt, pulses, vegetables, salads, sauces and soups and is used to marinate meats, poultry and fishes.
Lavender flowers are small, usually violet in colour. It has been well-known since antiquity where Ancient Romans used lavender in cookery, but also to scent garments, bed sheets and baths. The word lavender is derived from the Latin lavare (to wash). Lavender essential oil is used in laundry, perfumery, skin treatment, massage oil and soap making. It also has antiseptic & medicinal properties. In cooking it can be used in combination with other aromatic plants such as thyme, fennel, and rosemary, oregano to marinade meats, poultry and fish. It combines very well with lemon. In general it suits all citrus fruits, as it mellows their acidity.
St. John’s Wort
It was named St John’s wort because, along with other plant tips, St John used them as food when in the desert. It is used mainly for medicinal purposes.
The name of the plant is derived from the Latin verb “salvare”, which means “to save”; hence it is the saviour plant. It is used as a condiment and as a preservative in the food and the oil industry. It gives aroma to poultry, meats, fish, pasta and legumes.
Set in the south Aegean Sea, Ios belongs to the group of islands called the Cyclades. A largely infertile extension of mainland Greece, this group forms a circle. In the past, there were not enough fields for the locals to plough and produce sufficient food. Making use of local stone, they built stone walls to support terraces. Continuous stone-wall-supported terraces define Ios’ slopes making a strong impression on today’s visitors. Very common throughout the Cyclades and other parts of southern Greece, their original purpose was to provide precious soil for cultivation. They retained soil by creating strips of land where crops could grow.
Terraces turn erosion into an advantage. Heavy rains (precipitation is a seasonal event only) often occurs in Ios in wintertime, gradually carrying good soil from the mountain tops to lower elevations. Kept in place by the terracing stone walls, this fertile mud fills the rows of terraces that mark the most desolate, rocky seaside slopes. Mostly in disrepair today, Ios’ terraces are centuries old. They extend to its most remote, rocky and windswept slopes, often reaching from the seafront all the way to the top of the mountains, to places that seem accessible only to goats.
Petra Holiday Village supports the preservation of the exceptional beauty and natural value of Ios. Like many places around the world, Ios is enduring land degradation due to severe erosion. This erosion has led to biodiversity loss and fragile terrestrial and marine ecosystems. In times of heavy rainfall, anti-erosion solutions, including vegetation and the use of traditional terraces, are required to stop rainwater running oﬀ into the sea carrying debris (soil, stones, sand) and to repair the land.
The Mammals of Cyclades, Syros Letters, Vol. 29, 1995 (translated by Constantine Hatziadoniu)
Dimaki Μ. 2010. “Aigeo: Mia thalassa zois. Ta erpeta. I Fisi”: volume 129, pages 28-30. Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature
Maria Livanou and Vangelis Paravas. The marine Mammals of the Greek Sea. Publication of WWF Hellas. Informational brochure about the program “Thalassa: Learn, Act, Protect / Information, Education, Participatory Campaign for Marine Mammals in Greece”
Anni Mitropoulou https://www.ow.gr/living/5-mathimata-zois-apo-tis-kiklades-kai-tous-anthropous-tous/?fbclid=IwAR3nNj9ZTDmZv4-c8OGjrdQcrOpjIaYhHN_k1b_I0QCLTlR2nf4cspw7j3E