Fauna of the Giant Mountains

The animal world of the Giant Mountains characterizes in a large species diversity. It is related to the presence of vegetation floors of different climates and diverse mosaics of flora communities. In addition, terrain sculpture – especially above the upper forest border - distinguish the Giant Mountains in comparison with other mountain ranges of the Sudetes. Lakes and glacial boilers, steep rocky slopes, peat bogs on equinoxes – typical for the landscape of these mountains – became a home to many valuable species of Karkonosze wildlife.
Number of species living in the Giant Mountains is as follows: invertebrates - at least 15 thousand species, vertebrates - over 320 species, among them: fish – 2 species, amphibians – 6 species, reptiles – 6 species, breeding an migratory birds – about 200 species, mammals - almost 60 species.

Man and nature

The history of nature conservation in the Giant Mountains is short because it dates back merely to the beginning of the 20th century. Previously, for hundreds of years, man exploited natural resources irrationally, thus leading to their great impoverishment. At that time many species of animals went extinct. Great predators were effectively eradicated by hunting. In extensive areas, shepherds cut down the forests for their needs, the developing industry, including the metallurgical manufacturing didn’t help the cause either. Natural habitat shrank without giving fauna a chance to survive. Probably many species will never return in the Giant Mountains. However, the fact that new species are being discovered from time to time, some come back after many years of absence, and some are restored as part of conservation measures in the Karkonosze National Park. 

Characteristics of Karkonosze fauna

The present form and character of the Karkonosze fauna is the result of many factors. The climatic conditions have exerted the most influence. These have been shaping the landscape for millennia. There were significant transformations of plant life during the climate changes, and these conditions habituated the existence of particular groups of animal species as well. Undoubtedly, the harsh climate of the ice age played a key role here. Throughout its duration, in the coldest periods, the glaciers formed thick layers covered by firn and snow. Such extreme conditions prevented the survival of the fauna, that was living here before glaciation. Hence, in the present species composition of animals variety, there are no representatives of faecal fauna – so called preglacial relics. Ice Age also had an effect on the insignificant number of endemic species that probably existed here before its arrival. The last glaciation subsided from the Karkonosze 11.5 thousand years ago. However, it is too short of a time for zoocenos to be able to produce completely new and typical species exclusively to the Giant Mountains.

As the glacial age ice sheet spread more and more into the Eurasian continent, climate zones, vegetation and animal species moved along with it. Thanks to this, cold-blooded arctic species have reached the Sudeten area. They were the first to colonize the Giant Mountains after the end of glaciation. When global warming followed, the ice sheet reduced its reach and cold-blooded species withdrew to northern Europe. However, some of them remained, finding in the cool subalpine and alpine floors convenient ecological niches - corresponding to the present conditions of northern Scandinavia.

Typical types of glacial relics can be represented by arctic whorl snail. For many years its presence has not been confirmed. The only known stand of its existence is the basaltic vein of the Mały Śnieżny Kocioł. Another species of this group is the Otomesostoma auditivum, which lives in the waters of the Wielki Staw. Other species of northern origin, mainly found in the Scandinavian areas, are found in the mountainous massifs of Central Europe and inhabiting the Giant Mountains, also known as boreal-mountain species. Among them are the alpine snail, the Nebria rufescens beetle, along with dragonflies: azure hawker and alpine emerald. Amoung vertebrates we find otherwise extremely rare and precious field vole, and birds such as eurasian dotterel and common redpoll, living mainly in the Karkonosze tundra.

The cool climate of the highest parts of the Giant Mountains also gave shelter to the fauna penetrating from the great mountain ranges of Europe - mostly from the Alps. Among the alpine species we observe species like: Crenobia alpina, snails: Semilimax kotulae, and the Isognomostoma isognomostomos, a most intriguing species which has a small hair-covered shell. The almost complete absence of thermophilic species, originating in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Balkans, should not be forgotten to mention. Low temperatures in the Giant Mountains explain the lack of such fauna. One exception is the species of Spider Harpactea lepida, living in the ruins of Chojnik Castle. The diversity of invertebrate groups is also different in comparison to other mountain ranges of the Sudetes - especially the Eastern Sudetes. There is a much greater share of Carpathian species. This is explained by the geological and climatic differences of the Karkonosze massif.