photo © Visit Finland
The diversity of wildlife in Finland often comes as a surprise to visitors to Europe’s easternmost country, but in Finland there are currently 80 mammal species in Finland. The list must be incomplete because it makes no mention of the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), a species introduced in the last century, or of whatever rabbit species that has become a real problem in Helsinki in recent years, thought to be former pets and the offspring of former pets. Although neither species are native to Finland there is no denying that they have successfully adapted themselves to the environment in a relatively short time.
Most visitors will be aware of Finland’s ‘Big 4′, namely the Brown bear, the Gray wolf, the Eurasian lynx, and the wolverine, however there are another 11 species of mammalian carnivore resident in the country. These are the Arctic fox, Red fox, and raccoon dog; the stoat (or ermine), European mink, the Least weasel (the smallest mammalian carnivore in the world), the European polecat, the Pine marten, and the sable; the badger; and the otter. Finland is home to one of the most endangered species of seals in the world, the Saimaa Ringed Seal which can only be found on Lake Saimaa, and which is one of only three species of freshwater seals living today. The Saimaa colony has a total population of only about 260 individuals. There are also 7 species of bats in Finland, 7 species of shrews, and 18 species of rodents including 2 lemmings, 8 voles, and the elusive Siberian Flying squirrel.
However, as diverse as mammalian life in Finland is, it pales in comparison to the richness of Finland’s avifauna. There are 450 species of bird in Finland, although 7 of these have not been seen since 1950. Thanks to Finland being the most eastern country in Europe, and one of the most northern in the world, there are a number of species rarely enountered anywhere else in Europe, which makes Finland very popular with birdwatchers everywhere. Those who make the trip come to see Black and Great spotted woodpeckers; Pygmy, Great Grey, and Snowy owls; White tailed and Golden eagles; Merlin; Pink footed geese; Willow and Siberian tits; Black grouse and Capercaillie; and many others that are rare elsewhere. There is an especially large number of birds of prey, including some 23 types of kites, hawks, and eagles, 9 types of falcon, 11 types of owl, and the osprey. Finnish birders greet the spring with great enthusiasm, with April and May being their busiest months as many migrants return north, including Finland’s national bird, the elegant Whooper swan.
Despite its northerly location and the severity of its winters, Finland is also home to 5 species of reptile and 5 species of amphibian, all of which hibernate, usually from the end of September through ’til April. There are two types of lizard; the Viviparous lizard, which is the northern lizard species in the world, and the only one in the Lacertidae family that is viviparous, meaning it gives birth to young rather than laying eggs and hatching them; the Slow Worm is also viviparous and is not as common as the Vivaparous lizard. They are often mistaken for snakes, however they possess eyelids which snakes do not, shed their skin in patches, and may shed their tails in defense.
There are three species of snake native to Finland. The Smooth snake can only be found in the Åland Islands, although it rare there and little is known of its lifecycle. In Sweden the females mate every two or three years, it is likely the same with the Finnish snakes. The Grass snake has the distinction of being the only reptile in Finland to lay eggs, which it does in moist places like leaf piles. It can be found in southwest Finland, along the coast, and in the lake district up to the 62nd parallel. Finland’s only poisonous snake is the Adder, or Common Viper, but it is really only dangerous to small children, old, weak, or sick people, or those with an allergic reaction to viper venom. The last known death to have been attributed to a bite from a Common Viper in Finland was in 1984, nonetheless, anyone who is bitten by one should seek medical assistance immediately.
The five amphibians that are found in Finland are the Warty (or Great Crested) Newt, the Smooth Newt, the Common Toad, the Common Frog, and the Moor Frog.
Finland is a paradise for anyone who loves fishing, from the seas around it, through the lakes that take up so much of the country, to the pristine northern rivers of Lapland. There are 68 species of freshwater fish found in Finland, and flyfishers flock every year to catch salmon and trout in the most idyllic of surroundings. In addition to the these you’ll find bream, sturgeon, shad, loach, carp, vendace, whitefish, bullhead, pike, burbot, bass, smelt, perch, roach, pike-perch (or zander), rudd, grayling, tench, and many more. When fishing in the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea, or the Gulf of Bothnia, the most common fish you might catch are herring, dogfish, flounder, mackerel, ray, halibut, and atlantic salmon.
Vegetation only reappeared in Finland at the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago when the glaciers began finally to retreat. Nevertheless there are now more than 1,200 species of vascular plants, 800 species of bryophtes (mosses, liverworts, hornworts, etc.), and 1,000 species of lichen. Plant life is well adapted to tolerate the extremely contrasting weather of Finland’s pronounced seasons, although there is a greater variety of flora in southern Finland. Much of the country is dominated by conifers, mainly pine and spruce (although Siberian larch, fir, and juniper can also be found). However, in the extreme southern part of Finland there is a deciduous zone, the trees being mainly birch, hazel, aspen, maple, elm, linden, and alder. Birch is Finland’s national tree, and is found throughout the country as far as the arctic circle. Pine extends right to the north where it can be found growing among hardier species such as the pygmy willow and dwarf arctic birch.
Swathes of forests and vast areas of lakes are usually the first impression the visitor has of Finland, but a little exploration will reveal so much more. Over 1,000 species of flowering plants have been recorded here, and the the forests and countryside attract many Finns in the autumn when the berry and mushroom picking seasons are in full swing. Wild berries are very commonly used in Finnish recipes, and berry-picking is often a family day out. The most common types of berries picked in Finland are lingonberry, bilberry, crowberry, cranberry, buckthorn berry, wild raspberry and strawberry, rowanberry, arctic bramble, and the elusive and highly prized cloudberry. Finns also love their wild mushrooms, but, as is always the case with fungi, much care should be taken when picking: some mushrooms are poisonous, so only pick those which you recognise as being good for eating. The most popular mushrooms picked are the chantarelle and funnel chantarelle, the rufous, northern, and saffron milk caps, ceps, slippery jack, sheep polydore, pine mushroom, and the orange birch and variegated boletes.