The Icon Species Exhibit

Utrecht Science Park (USP) is home to a great number of ecosystems. It contains woodlands, fields, ponds, ditches, banks and so on. Keeping these ecosystems healthy with plenty of life, growth and food requires biodiversity. And lots of it.

The Icon Species project is a project by the Green Office and the Sustainability Programme Team, launched during Biodiversity Week 2020.

Meet the Icon Species

When we talk about nature, we often use words like ‘harmony’ and ‘balance’. This has a very fundamental reason. Plants and animals keep their habitats happy and healthy and their habitats reward them with food and shelter. Nature is cyclic and keeps going, keeps working, as long as the vital parts of the (eco)system are there.

To strengthen the ecosystems and level of biodiversity in Utrecht Science Park, Utrecht University established a list of species called Icon Species that they’re going to monitor and try to accommodate, making sure they’re well-presented in Utrecht Science Park.

Icon Species in Utrecht Science Park - by Suus Hessling

Why Icon Species

Icon Species indicate the health and fruition of the ecosystems they inhabit. Their presence shows not only that this species can survive and thrive in an area, but that many other species are present as well. Also, these species all have unique abilities that contribute to the health of their habitat.

The Icon Species Exhibit shines a light on the Icon Species. Click the button below to view the exhibit, learn about these animals and why they’re of great importance for Utrecht Science Park.

This project is a collaboration between the Green Office and the Utrecht Biologists Association (UBV).

View the exhibit

Meet the Icon Species

Take a few minutes to learn more about the badger, pine marten, little owl, grass snake, scarce chaser, great crested newt, earthnut pea and the grey partridge. There’s more to them than you think.

grey partridge icon species

Grey partridge (perdix perdix)

Family: Phasianidae
Size: 15-30cm
Food: Seeds, greens, insects

(Nederlandse naam: Patrijs)

The grey partridge is a bird which inhabits many parts of Europe and Northern-America. This bird prefers to reside on arable land and meadows.

Grey partridges can grow up to thirty centimeters tall and feed mostly on grasses, weeds and grains. Occasionally they feast on an insect or two. The partridge is an endangered species which makes preserving them in Utrecht Science Park (USP) ever so important.

Did you know
Partridges are notorious for their egg count. Partridges can lay up to fifteen eggs per nest

great crested newt icon species

Great crested newt (triturus cristatus)

Family: Salamandridae
Size: 13-16cm
Food: Small invertebrates

(Nederlandse naam: Kamsalamander)

The great crested newt is an amphibian that spends most of its time on land. When it’s time to mate, the newt moves to water.

Utrecht Science Park has plenty of wetlands and green lands. This makes it an ideal habitat for the newt.

This species of newt is important because of the ecosystem services it has to offer. For example, it recycles nutrients from water to land and vice versa. By providing this service, newts help make soils more fertile.

Did you know
The great crested newt has over forty different scientific names, all being synonyms.

pine marten icon species

European pine marten (martes martes)

Family: Mustelidae
Size (without tail): 46-54cm
Food: Small animals, berries

(Nederlandse naam: Boommarter)

The European Pine Marten is a small predator native to Northern Europe. Pine martens are most commonly found in well-wooded areas as their semi-retractable claws allow them to quickly climb and run on tree branches.

Pine martens fulfill an important ecological role regarding the dispersal of seeds, which they eat as part of their varied diet. By passing the seeds, the marten disperses them all over its habitat, allowing new trees and other vegetation to grow.

Did you know
The nimble pine marten can outrun a squirrel in a chase at high altitudes in treetops. It is the only mammal known to be capable of this.

grass snake icon species

Grass snake (natrix natrix)

Family: Colubridae
Size: 90-150cm
Food: Amphibians

(Nederlandse naam: Ringslang)

The grass snake is bound to wet habitats. It prefers sunny dikes close to water, not too much open field and piles of organic matter to breed in.

Because the grass snake is an endangered species in the Netherlands, its presence in Utrecht Science Park will hopefully boost its overall existence. In 2019, Utrecht University has built several nesting piles for grass snakes.

Did you know
The grass snake isn’t a biter. When it feels threatened, it plays dead.

earthnut pea icon species

Earthnut pea (lathyrus tuberosus)

Family: Fabaceae
Size: 70-120cm
Genus: Lathyrus

(Nederlandse naam: Aardaker)

The earthnut pea is a climber and grows two to six pinkish red flowers on each stem. They provide nutritious foods for a number of animals as they are able to grow edible tubers.

Earthnut peas usually grow in grassy areas, forests, hedgerows and banks. The plant loves loamy soils, making Utrecht Science Park an ideal habitat. This plant is able to fixate nitrogen, making soils more fertile. Because of this feature the earthnut pea increases biodiversity in ecosystems.

Did you know
Slugs have the hots for these peas. Its fondness of this plant however is dangerous as they completely devour the plant upon sight.

little owl icon species

Little owl (athene noctua)

Family: Strigidae
Size: 22cm
Food: Insects, small reptiles, 
small mammals

(Nederlandse naam: Steenuil)

Appropriately named ‘little owl’, this bird is barely bigger than the blackbird, and is mostly recognised by its beautiful yellow eyes and its light “eyebrows”.

They live in small landscapes and mostly eat mice, but also other small animals, amphibians and insects. The little owl is a bird on the red list, and its conservation in Utrecht Science Park is very worthwhile and would increase the biodiversity of this area.

Did you know
Baby little owls leave the nest after just one month, but the parents still take care of them for another five weeks.

scarce chaser icon species

Scarce chaser (Libellula fulva)

Family: Libellulidae (Korenbouten)
Size: 42-45mm
Food: Small insects

(Nederlandse naam: Bruine Korenbout)

The scarce chaser is a species of dragonfly found in Europe. It prefers floodplains and marshes with a dense vegetation. Utrecht Science Park has it all and is therefore a great habitat for the scarce chaser.

The scarce chaser is an important species to improve biodiversity as it feeds on pest insects, making it a natural pesticide for Utrecht Science Park. Eliminating pest insects means more food for other species and peaceful growth for many types of vegetation. 

Did you know
Adult life means near-death for scarce chasers. The animals’ larvae stage is almost two years, while the adult life stage is only three months.

european badger icon species

European badger (meles meles)

Family: Mustelidae
Size (without tail): 71cm
Food: Mostly invertebrates

(Nederlandse naam: Das)

The badger prefers an undisturbed environment which has enough food, ground to dig in and places to hide. 

Since badgers primarily prey of invertebrates, their presence may control certain insect pest population. In addition, they can act as seed dispersers since they also consume large amounts of fruit. 

Did you know
The badger is one of the largest predators that lives on land in the Netherlands. Their total length, head to tail, can be up to 90 centimeters (!)

The Icon Species project is a project by the Green Office and the Sustainability Program Team, launched during Biodiversity Week 2020. The Green Office is where fresh hearts and minds come together to support Utrecht University's sustainable development.