Iceland is portrayed as the country of ice and volcanoes. A cold, barren, sparsely populated region of the world that is great for Vikings and geologists, but not so great for anything else, right? None of this could be further from the truth, and Panrimo’s going to set the record straight the best way we know how: pictures of adorable, fluffy animals! So sit back, relax and prepare to be in “awwwwwww”, as we count down our Top 7 Icelandic Animals.
7) Wood Mouse
Wood mice are not native to Iceland’s harsh climate, but proved up for the challenge by stowing away in Viking longboats, which brought the first settlers to the northern shores. Often found living in the cozy foundations of churches, farmhouses, and the neighboring bushes wood mice have survived, but not easily. An award winning documentary film “Wood Mouse – Life on the Run” provides surprising drama as it follows two mice and their battle to survive the winter.
6) Grey Seals
If there is any animal that has truly flourished in the North Atlantic, it’s the grey seal. Though archaeological digs have turned up seal remains dating back to 800AD, the earliest written records of their presence in and around Iceland date back to the 1700s. Unfortunately, early inhabitants of the region were not as taken with the seals’ appearance as modern day tourists and promptly dubbed them ‘hook-nosed sea pigs’. Today the seals are particularly populous in the Myrar area, usually hanging out in their 1 male-20 female harem groups along the coast.
5) Icelandic Sheep
Icelandic sheep are short, stocky, adorable, and a breed entirely unique to Iceland. One of the breed’s defining characteristics is their naturally short, tapered tail as well as their pre-disposition to colder climates. With valuable wool that comes in a variety of colors (white, brown, gray, and black), the sheep are also prized for their milk and meat.
Iceland is puffin heaven. In fact, more than 9 million puffins migrate to Iceland’s north-western cliffs every year to breed, raise their young, and chill (It’s Iceland, get it? Ha!). One of the largest colonies is in Vestmannaeyjar, and thousands of tourists flock there every year to watch as baby puffins take their first, rather dangerous, tumble from their burrows on the cliffs. Not to fear though, if Mama Puffin can’t keep an eye on all her babies, helpful locals have been known to assist them back to their nests.
3) Icelandic Horses
Today’s Icelandic horses are direct descendants of the hardy steeds the Vikings first brought to the land a thousand years ago, and they’ve hardly softened up. A tough, independent breed, Icelandic horses are on the smaller side due to a lack of natural plants to snack on, but this hardly hampers them in dominating the northern plains they roam. Notable for their heavy winter coats and sure-footedness, there are more than 80,000 horses living in the wild. Considering there are only 300,000 people in the entire country, that’s quite a lot!
Brought to Iceland in 1850 from Norway, reindeer have seamlessly blended into the highland landscape of Snaefell in Eastern Iceland. Favoring the higher elevations in summer, reindeer herds move to the lower grasslands to graze only during the colder winter months. Reindeer meat is considered a delicacy in Icelandic cuisine so the government, in an effort to maintain herd size, issues a limited number of hunting permits each year to satisfy both the cooks AND the conservationists.
1) Arctic Foxes
Arctic foxes are number one on this list not only because they are the cutest thing EVER, but also because they are the only land mammal native to Iceland. Inhabitants of the land for at least 10,000 years, the ancestors of these tenacious little predators probably first arrived on the land by walking over the frozen sea from further south. The foxes survive primarily through hunting the other animals on this list (they’re carnivores, they can’t help it!) and succeed thanks to their beautiful coats, which change from a blue-black color in summer months to a pure white during the winter.