Discover the Animals in Portugal – An Introduction

Wild goat/Pixabay

The animals in Portugal, include water species such as insects, fish, reptiles, mammals, and birds. In last month’s post, I wrote about the flora, the plant species, of Portugal. Now, I would like to introduce you to the fauna of Portugal.


Of course, there are the usual bees, wasps, and hornets, but let me introduce you to the desert wasp. Although they are native to Africa, some have been seen in Portugal. They are known for one thing – hunting tarantula spiders.

Desert Wasp

The desert wasp, when it has found a tarantula, will sting it and release certain chemicals which then paralyzes the spider. At that point, the wasp will lay a single egg in the spider’s stomach then bury the spider in its own nest.

After a few weeks, the egg will hatch inside the spider which is still alive. Once hatched, the wasp will eat away at the spider’s internal organs, and when it’s large enough, will break through the “skin” of the spider. Until the wasp is large enough to break out of the spider’s nest, it will continue to eat the spider’s remains.

Usually, the desert wasp leaves people alone, but if stung, take antihistamines and get to a doctor or medical clinic.

Processionary Caterpillars

Processionary caterpillars/Pixabay

Another nasty insect is the processionary caterpillar. These are most active from November through February in pine forests and surrounding areas. They are called processionary because they travel end-to-end. The trail can reach 24 meters (nearly 79 feet!) in length.

If you see a nest in the trees, call the town/city hall (concelho) or the local police (GNR) to deal with the nest. They can be fatal to dogs, cats, and small children.

These caterpillars are covered with fuzzy hairs, their defense mechanism. When threatened, they release those hairs. If those hairs touch your skin, within about 20 seconds you will begin to feel itchy and red blotches will appear. Do not scratch as this will only spread the itch.

If those hairs are breathed in, you only have about 90 seconds until your airway will begin to close. You do not have long to reach medical help if this happens.

When dogs or cats sniff these caterpillars, they will suck the hair directly into their airway and will most likely die. If you think you have been touched by the hairs, go straight to a hospital.

Other Insects

Of course, there are the usual ants, beetles, and other bugs. There are also scorpions in Portugal, but none of them are the poisonous kind. They do carry a nasty bite/sting though. They like to hide in crevices, especially under rocks and branches, so wear gloves if doing outside work. Also, be sure to check your shoes before putting them on in the morning!

Fish and Aquatic Wildlife 

Several species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises call Portugal home. European sardines are plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that there are entire festivals about them.

Clams and oysters are raised in the Algarve, the southern region. Other crustaceans such as crab, lobster, and shrimp are common in the northern rocky coasts.

Man O’War may look like a jellyfish, but it is not. Its tentacles can deliver a powerful sting strong enough to kill small fish. It’s also been known to kill humans on occasion in the past.

Man O’War/Pixabay

The Man O’War just floats along with the tides. Large groupings occasionally wash up on the shore. Even though the organism itself may be dead, its tentacles can still deliver a powerful sting up to a few days after death.


Other animals in Portugal are snakes, turtles, and lizards. There is a watersnake called the Viperine snake, but it is not a true viper. The other watersnake is called the Iberian grass snake. Both of these are non-venomous.

Most of the turtles live in or near the sea. I did find two types of turtles that live near fresh-water ponds.

Geckos are common. I remember well playing with geckos when I lived in the Philippines back in the 1970s. I have to admit that I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

Other types of lizards also live in Portugal. Hopefully, none of these grow very big because I think that would freak me out a bit. Small lizards I can handle,


Common mammals include: boars, wild goats, fallow deer, Iberian fox, Iberian hare, European hedgehog, Eurasian otter, Common Genet (a spotted cat-like carnivore with a long striped tail), badger, bats, voles, Egyptian mongoose, and Eurasian beaver.

The Iberian wild goat nearly disappeared in the early 1900s. Conservationists reintroduced the wild goat to the Paneda-Gerês national park in the northern region. Bears disappeared in the 1800s.

Two notable species are on the endangered list – the Iberian lynx and the Iberian wolf.

Iberian lynx/Pixabay

The Iberian lynx is the most endangered cat species in the world. Only a few hundred are left. Spain and Portugal are working together to set up land to preserve this species, allow it to roam, and encourage its repopulation.

Traditionally, the Iberian lynx’s habitat has been in the southern regions of Portugal. Presently, the wild lynx population is in the northern region. A reproduction center for the Iberian lynx operates in the Algarve. Some of the lynx are set free yearly in the Guadiana Valley region in the Alentejo, one of the southern regions.

Also endangered, the Iberian wolf, a subspecies of the grey wolf, number fewer than 2,000. This wolf lives in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain. They have been separated from other wolf species for over a century to help preserve the species.


Portugal is on the winter migration route for birds from western and central Europe. This makes for sightings of many kinds of birds, a bird-lover’s paradise!

Flamingos, spoonbills, ibises, waders, herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, geese, coots, and gulls are some of the aquatic birds you can find in the winter season, especially in the southern region.

Where to Find the Animals in Portugal

Some of the best places to see the animals in Portugal are the Paneda-Gerês National Park in the northern region; the aquarium in Lisbon (Oceanario De Lisboa); Lake Alqueva in the western Alentejo; Vale Do Guadiana along the southern Portugal-Spain border; and several places in the Algarve, including Cape St. Vincent, Ria De Alvor Natural Reserve, Ria Formosa, and Castro Marim.  

Remember, Portugal is the animals’ home. Unless you have a specific hunting or fishing license, leave the animals alone and leave their homes as untouched as possible.


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