When you hear the term "dangerous animals," you tend to conjure images of venemous reptiles and clawed predators. But, there are no animals in Iceland that are dangerous, poisonous, venomous or harmful. There aren’t any mosquitos, there are no snakes, and only one species of wasp.
However, there are animals in Iceland that can be a nuisance and some that can harm the ecosystem. Here, we'll talk you through some of the more troublesome creatures in Iceland.
However, like all good things, it does come with a disclosure – Iceland is not entirely free of bugs. The common tourist spot Lake Mývatn means ‘midge lake’ due to the swarms of lake midges that buzz around during the summer. They don’t bite, but the black fly does. They both swarm when you stand around bodies of water, and the bites aren’t very painful by themselves, but they still do hurt when you have several. Thankfully, you can avoid them by not standing around still lakes in the height of summer.
The only other animal that could possibly be classified as ‘a bit more than a mild annoyance’ is the Arctic Tern. They nest across Iceland and watching them swoop to their nests on cliffs is a popular activity. However, don’t walk too close during nesting season, as they are incredibly protective and will swoop, dive, scream, peck, and send droppings flying your way. You should be safe though, as the Tern is a protected species and you shouldn’t be approaching their colonies anyway.
An animal that a lot of people sometimes mistakenly believe to exist in Iceland is the polar bear. They are dangerous, so if you see one you shouldn’t approach, but you shouldn’t see one in Iceland as they aren’t native. Very rarely, they float over on icebergs, but polar bears don't normally actively hunt humans, and after their long journey they are starving, so will kill and destroy land if not taken care of. Iceland has considered capturing, healing, then returning the polar bears to where they come from, but as that costs upwards of 75,000 Euros (£67,100), they are killed upon arrival instead.
The other animal that is allowed to be killed with impunity (though animal welfare laws say they must be killed humanely) is the mink. First brought for fur farming, many have escaped over the years and have turned feral. They can harm native Icelandic birdlife, attacking the birds, eggs, and causing the breeding behaviour to change), and steal chickens across the country. Iceland did to try to completely eradicate the species, but gave it up as futile.
Whilst they don’t have the same kill order as minks, rabbits are considered an invasive species if not kept at home as a pet. Many were released in 2010, or are descendants from those pets and now they have a similar destructive impact on the environment due to their high breeding rates. They now harm farms, occupied puffin burrows (harming their breeding patterns), fouling animal feed, destroying property and more. Don’t feed the rabbits when you see them, even though it can be tempting.
Reindeer do live in Iceland and were also originally brought for farming. They soon became wild and now there are roughly 3000-7000 reindeer in the East and North-East. There are 1,200-1,300 reindeer hunting permits issued each year, and their population is seasonally controlled because they take grazing land from sheep and could cause damage to the economy in a bad winter or with a volcanic eruption, both of which are known to happen in Iceland.
The only mammal that is native to Iceland is the Arctic Fox, and they are a protected species in Hornstrandir in the north of Iceland. However, they are small, well-hidden and will avoid humans, so consider yourself lucky if you spot one in the wild! Their human avoidance is best known ny their odd distaste of fences, where they will avoid going through a fence at any cost. If you want to learn more about the fox, you can visit the Arctic Fox Center in the village of Súðavík in the Westfjords.
Like any country, you shouldn’t antagonise the farm animals while walking on their land, as getting rammed by a sheep will hurt despite their fluffy appearance. However, you must also be cautious when driving around Iceland as they may cross the roads, so keep an eye out when driving so you don’t hit any animals running across. Hitting them will hurt the animal, hurt the car, and will probably also harm you.
If you want more driving tips, read here.