Wild animals in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a very urban country with one of the most dense population in the world. Althought there are some national parks left you can imagine animal wildlife is under pressure due to human activity. However we still try to do our best to protect wild animals and their natural environment.

In the wild around 27,000 animal species can be found in the Netherlands. About 500 of them are endangered species and protected by law. On top of that approx. 10,000 species of fungus can be found in the Netherlands.

27,000 sounds a lot but actually most of them are insects, spiders and other small animals. When I personally think about watching wildlife. I would most likely think about going birdwatching. As the netherlands has much wetlands there is plenty of food to be found and many birds can be found in the Netherlands. Some birds are endemic others are migrating and passing by the Netherlands or stay during winter or summer.

Animal types Number of different species found in the Netherlands
mammals71
birds203
spiders2,250
insects19,244
Reptiles7
Amfibian17
Fish96
other5,112
Total27,000
source: clo.nl

Mammals in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is home to about 71 different mammal species. I will try to give you an overview of some of the them. First I name some of the smaller animals after that I will try and show you some of the larger mammals living in Holland.

Small mammals in the Netherlands

Hares

Hares are a very common animal in the Netherlands. They often can be seen in the grass farmlands. Even when watching out from a window in the train you can spot them easily. When spooked they press their body close to the ground and try to hide. But once a possible threat comes near they suddenly run off into the distance.

Brown Hare in the grasses (33226473902)

A common Hare, , CC BY-SA 2.0, picture by Smudge 9000 via Wikimedia Commons

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are nocturnal and also solitair animals and they are rarely seen. Most likely you wil spot them in the night time near forestry areas or in the cities near bushes and gardens. The hedgehog is very small, has a has a pointed nose and can be easily recognised by its spikes on its back. A full grown hedgehog has around seven to eight thousand spikes on its back! When the animal feels dangered it will curl up so its spikes can defend him!

Hedgehogs stay in their own fixed habitat of about 10-40 Hectare and everynight they can bridge several kilometers in search for food. They eat bugs, caterpillars, worms and snails. Sometimes even eggs! They have excellent smell and can easily find their food.

They will need to eat enough as during the winter hedgehogs go into hibernation. They sleep from November/december until April/May. Did you know that during hibernation hedgehogs can loose up to 30% of their weight!

Hedgehog at night

A hedgehog walking on the street , CC BY-SA 4.0, by Elimik31 via Wikimedia Commons

Marters

Marters are small and agile animals and great in adapting to new environments. There are 2 different species of Marters living in The Netherlands: The tree marter and the stone marter. They both look like eachother. The big difference between them is their living habitat. As the name says, the tree marter lives mostly in forest areas and trees. The stone marter lives mostly near residential areas.

Both Tree- and stone marters are endangered in the Netherlands, estimated is that around 500 adult tree marters live in the Netherlands, the population of stone marters is larger.

Marters are notoriously known for climbing in cars and biting the electrical wiring!

Martes martes crop

A Marter , CC BY-SA 3.0, by Dani Kropivnik via Wikimedia Commons

Larger mammals in the Netherlands

In this section I would like to show you some of the larger animals in the Netherlands, I call them larger as some of them are still not bigger than a regular cat or dog. However they do are awesome animals to see.

The Fox

I would like to start of with the Fox. I only saw a wild fox once in my live and it was quite the sight. When the animal runs it is kind of hopping and running and it has a beautiful red fur.

Foxes are found everywhere in the Netherlands but are very shy and it is very hard to spot one. The mostly are nocturnal and go hunt for prey in the twilight and night. Foxes hunt alone but live in families. A family consist of one male and one female animal and their children. They mark their territory with urine. Foxes are no endangered species in the Netherlands.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) (4)

A fox, CC BY-SA 3.0, Ken Billington, via Wikimedia Commons

Wild boar

Boars are small, dark piglike animals with pointy snouts which they use to dig in the forestfloor to look for food. They eat pretty much everything, from nuts, grass, roots or berries to, insects, frogs and little rodents. Their fur is very brushy and rough. The males have 2 tusks which they use to fight for dominance.

There are quite a lot of Boars living in the Netherlands, the most you find in the central national parks like De hoge veluwe and in southern province of Limburg as there they are protected.

Boars have a very good smell and hearing but not a good eyesight. So if you want to spot them you should sit still with the right wind direction. Best places to try and spot wild animals including boars are so called wildlife observation areas. Last summer I went to one of those observation posts. It was kind of an underground bunker with a view on an open grass field in the forest. Perfect for deer and boar to eat! We went there a half hour before sunset and waited for a long time. And just about when it almost was too dark to see a whole family of boar came walking towards us. Even some little child boars were running around grunting happily.

I know the photos are not so sharp but it was getting quite dark, I needed to use some image editing to make the boars visible on picture again as the actual photo was almost black.

Badger

The badger is an animal which can be easily recognised by its white and black stripes on its head. On its back it has black and white hairs which together result into a greyish fur. The Badger belongs to the family of Marter animals and is one of the larger predatory animals in the Netherlands. Nevertheless it is not that big nor dangerous to humans. It grows to about 15kg. In the wild the Badger can become up to 15 years old.

'Honey' the badger

A badger, CC BY 2.0,by Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons

History of the badger in the Netherlands

The badger was hunted a lot early 20th century. While around the year 1900 there were still living 12.000 Badgers in the Netherlands in the 1960’s that number was reduced to about 1200. From 1960 a ban of hunting permits was introduced by the government nevertheless between 1960-1980 the number of animals stayed stable at 1200 due to destruction of living habitat and roadkills. In 1980 a protection plan was introduced and slowly the number of Badgers was growing. Current day around 6000 badgers live in the Netherlands.

source: https://hulp.dasenboom.nl/

Where do badgers live?
As you can see on the map of the Netherlands above the badger lives mostly in the centre, east and south of the Netherlands. This is because they like hillside landscape combined with forestry areas which can be found there. These areas provide for plenty of food and good locations to build their underground nests.

Roe deer

The Roe deer or “Ree” as we call the animal in Dutch is probably the most common large mammal you will find in the Netherlands. They live in groups of 2 or 3 and most of the day they stay hiding in the bushes. If you want to spot them the best you can do is go to the forest early morning or in the dusk during sunset.

The photo below I took late evening on a summer day. As you can see the animal spotted me too! However their first instinct is to stand still which is perfect for taking photos!!! But don’t wait too long as it will soon start to run off into the forest again!

Edelhert (red deer)

The red deer together with the Moose belongs to the largest deer-like animals in Europe. In the summer its hide is red-brownish, hence the name red deer. In winter its hide turns greyish. A male deer has large antlers which they use to fight for dominance during rutting season. Every year, after winter, they loose their antlers and new ones grow which are completed around June. A wild edelhert lives between 15-25 years.

Cervus elaphus (Red deer), Veluwe, the Netherlands

A red deer, CC0,by Bj.schoenmakers via Wikimedia Commons

Where to find red deer (edelhert) in the Netherlands?
The red deer mostly live at National park de Oostvaardersplassen and at National park de hoge veluwe and its nearby forests. At these parks there are several observation posts where you can spot the animal.

Protection and conservation of red deer in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands the red deer does not have natural enemies. Inside National park de hoge veluwe the population is regulated by hunting. This due to the fact there is a fence around that park so a to big of population is unwanted. Outside the park this animal is not hunted. Sometimes young animals are hit by cars.

Wolves

Wolves in the Netherlands? Yes! In 2015 the first wolf was spotted in the Netherlands just near the border with Germany. Since then the wolf is spotted more and more in the Netherlands.

Many centuries ago the wolf lived all over europe but as industrialisation and deforestation set in they got extinct in the Netherlands. Due to good natural preservation slowly the wolf is making a come-back as over the years the were spotted more and more west, first into Germany and now resulting in 2015 for the first time back in the Netherlands!

According to wildlife experts It is estimated that as of 2021 around 30 wolves live in the Netherlands. Mostly in the east (drenthe, overijssel) and central Netherlands (Hoge veluwe)

Personally I feel quite cool this animal has returned to the Netherlands. I do hope I will not meet them when I go hiking! I think I’ll be alright as the chance of meeting them is quite small and they are probably shy of humans too!

youtube channel: Natuur monumenten (wildlife conservation)

Reptiles and amphibian animals

The Netherlands is not very famous for its reptiles or amphibian animals. And I also can’t think of any particular animals to talk about. I know some frogs, toads and salamanders which can be found near waterways and wet biomes.

As far as snakes I know there are vipers in the Netherlands which mainly live in areas with heather (dutch Heide) but never near human activity. They are very shy of humans and I personally have never seen one. They are slightly venomous but not deadly to adults. (be aware with little children!)

I do recommend to go to see a doctor as soon as possible when you get bitten.

Insects and spiders

As stated before there are around 19,000 different insects in the Netherlands and 2000 different species of spiders. Lucky almost none are dangerous. Apart from bees, which can sting and be quite dangerous if you are alergic to them, there is one more insect to be aware of and which can be quite harmfull: the Tick.

Ticks

What is a tick?

A tick (sometimes also called a harvest bug/mite) is a small, brownish/black insect of around 1 to 3 mm, it looks a bit like a spider. They live in bushes, trees, high grass, parks and gardens. Mostly active between March and November (when its warmer than 7 degree Celsius)

A tick climbs on humans and animals when they walk pass the foilage and bite in the skin to suck all its blood. It will suck blood until its around 1cm and will let go in a couple of days.

Ruhland, Grenzstr., Waldrand hinter Hausnr. 3, Gemeiner Holzbock, Spätfrühling, 04

Wilhelm Zimmerling PAR, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why can a tick bite be dangerous?

The reason a bit of a tick can be dangerous is because in the Netherlands around 1 in 5 ticks carry the Lyme- Bacteria which can lead to the Lyme disease. Of every 100 bites 2 or 3 people get lyme disease, that is around 2% or 3%. It is a chronical disease and can only be treated in its early stages. This makes for me personnally a tick the only really ‘dangerous’ animal in the Netherlands.

How to prevent getting bitten by a tick

Every year around 1 million dutch people are bitten by a tick. It is therefore vital to check for ticks after you went to the forest or in nature. Here are some tips to prevent getting bitten by ticks.

  • When you go into the Nature just try and stay on the paths and dont wander off.
  • Don’t walk in high grass or bushes.
  • Wear good closing clothes. (long sleaves, long pants. Wear socks over your pants.)
  • Wear a hat or cap to prevent ticks falling into your hair.

How to recognise a tick bite

A tick bite can occur everywhere on the human body. They particularly like warm sweaty places like armpits, groin, inside of the knee or the buttcrack. Also the hairline or behind the ears is a common place.

A tick bite does not hurt so they often get unnoticed. However you can recognise it as most often, just as with other insect bites, a red spot appears of at most 1 or 2 cm. It will go away in around one week.

Tick lodged in human host

Denys Williams, CC BY-SA 3.0, a tick bite, via Wikimedia Commons


How to remove a tick

  1. Use a tweezer to catch the tick as close as you can near the skin.
  2. Keep the tweezer parallel to the skin and pull the tick out without twisting it.
  3. It is okay if its head stays in the skin. just as a splinter the body will get rid of it
  4. If possible clean the wound with alcohol (>70%) or iodine.
  5. Check for more ticks!
  6. Write down when and where you’ve been bitten (area+ date+ where on the body)
  7. And finally, but very important. Check the next 3 months if a large mark or spot appears on the spot where a tick has bitten you. A reddish, yellowish or bluish spot marks a possible Lyme disease infection. Go to the doctor he can give you an antibiotics cure to prevent getting ill.

What to do when you are bitten by a tick

  1. When you remove a tick within 24 hours immediately chances of getting Lyme are very slim. Remove the tick and keep an eye on the spot for dark marks or spots as signes of lyme disease.
  2. If a Tick has been on you for over 24 hours before removing it you have 2 options:
    • Wait and see the next 3 months if there are signs of Lyme desease, if so take antibiotics
    • Within 72 hours of removing the insect take 1 antibiotics to prevent illness.

Downside of taking the 1 time antibiotics is that antibiotics have some nasty side effects such as nausea, diarrhea or allergic reaction.

Also I would like to add that there is a possibility that you never noticed that you were bitten, in that case I would like to give you some symptoms which fit the lyme disease so that if you get them you might remember it could be lyme. Those are:

  • Spots, yellowish, blueish spots on your body which are slowly getting bigger
  • when you feel like having a unexplainable fever, headache, musscle pain, tiredness.
  • One or more painfull joints
  • Radiating pain or tingling, and less strength in your arms or leggs
  • Doubble eyesight.
Bullseye rash linked to Lyme disease

CDC / James Gathany,Lyme disease spot. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you read the story above you might be very afraid of this little insect but dont worry too much. When you go into the Nature just try and stay on the paths and dont wander off. Also afterwards check yourself quickly. Most likely you will be fine!

For more info check this website (in dutch)

Spiders in the Netherlands

In contrary to Taiwan spiders the Dutch spiders are much smaller. Also there are not really any venomous or dangerous spiders in the Netherlands. So even they might look scary in the Netherlands you don’t need to worry if you seen one!

Aquatic animals in the Netherlands

Freshwater -animals and fish in the Netherlands

The otter

The otter is actually a family member of the marter. However it is an animal which mostly lives near the river shorelines with plenty of coverage from reed. The otter eats mostly small fish but also other small animals which can be found near the shore line.

The otter is mostly found in Northern Netherlands in the provinces of North-West Overrijsel, Friesland and Gelderland

European otter 02

Alexander Leisser, CC BY-SA 4.0,an Otter via Wikimedia Commons

Beavers

A Beaver is an aquatic animal which has a dark brown fur. It mainly eats twigs and woody plants and trees.

The beaver can grow up to 1m tall and is one of the largest rodents in Europe. Historically the Beaver lived all across Europe but In 1826 the Beaver got extinct in the Netherlands. Since 1988 several organisations are busy to re-introduce Beavers to the Dutch environment.

You can easily see when a beaver lives in the area as the most obvious sign of beavers are gnawed trees.

As of 2021 it is estimated around 4500-5000 beavers live in the Netherlands. If you want to spot them, mostl likely you wil find them in southern Netherlands near the rivers. Especially National park the Bieschbosch is a good location to start your search!

Fish

Fishing is quite a popular sport in the Netherlands. Many fish can be Caught in the dutch rivers and lakes. Be aware you need a fishing permit if you would like to go fishing in the Netherlands.

List of fish found in the dutch rivers and lakes:

  • perch
  • rudd
  • bream
  • eel (endangered species!)
  • pike
  • pike-perch
  • carp
  • catfish (biggest fish!)

Animal Database of the Netherlands

For a full list of animals in the Netherlands here you can find an overview of biodiversity of the Netherlands. The database called Nederlands Soortenregister is a database where a large number scientific institutions, individual experts or volunteers contributed by adding data and photos. The database can be used to inform policymakers, journalists or everyone who is interested.

References

(1), Compendium voor de leefomgeving; (2) stichting Das en Boom; (3), zoogdiervereniging; (4), tekenbeten.

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