Sand habitats

The embankment on the east shore of the Neusiedler See is about 25 km long and stretches from Weiden am See to Sandeck southeast of Illmitz. It is up to 2 metres high, 25 metres wide and made of sand. Debacles, or ice jams, moved loose sand which the north-westerly wind deposited on the east shore of the lake. This sandy soil harbours a unique flora and fauna.

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Archaeological findings show, that the embankment is only 2000 years old. Older embankments can be perceived further inland, but are being destroyed through agricultural use. 

On the left side of the image you can see the embankment with trees growing between the Neusiedler See and the saline lakes on the east side of the bank.

Sand habitats are rare in Central Europe.

Due to low precipitation and a relatively dry climate only a thin layer of soil could develop. Despite the growth of pioneer plants, pasturage ensures that some open sandy spots remain.

Offene Sandböden am Seedamm

Many rare species of fauna and flora have adapted to those living conditions and even need them to survive. Afforestation and transformation into vineyards diminished the size of sand habitats. It is the National Park's goal to ensure the preservation of the remaining areas.

The Blue Sand Grasshopper (Sphingonotus caerulans) specialised in living on sandy soils. It lives in the open land but it is very difficult to see due to its grey-brown camouflage marking. You can only see the light-blue hindwing as it takes flight. 

The Bembix rostrata, a sand wasp, is unique in Austria. This wasp that digs its burrows, puts only one egg in each nest. Its larvae are fed with flies until they are full grown. The Cuckoo wasp, an endangered species in Europe (Chrysididae) depends on the Bembix rostrata. The Cuckoo wasp puts its eggs into the Bembix rostrata's larvae, no longer fed and protected by their mother. These larvae serve as food for the Cuckoo wasp's larvae.

If you are lucky, you might find the sand pit traps of an Antlion larva. In the centre of the pit they wait for incautious ants. If an ant falls into the pit, there is no way it can scramble up the walls again. On top of that, the Antlion larva throws loose sand on its prey. Sometimes, the Antlion larva is called doodlebug.

Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Mole crickets need warm and loose soil like the one of the embankment. These large crickets serve as food for the Hoopoe that builds its nests along the embankment.

Pannonic sand steppes are especially protected as a proprietary habitat. Plants living in these areas have developed special strategies to cope with extreme heat, temperature changes, dryness and constant wind. Early blooming plants like the Rue-leaved Saxifrage use the humidity in the soil in spring to avoid dryness. Other plants you can find on the sandy soils of the embankment are: Sand Plantain (Plantago psyllium) and the Equisetum ramosissimum (a kind of horsetail). In May and June, the ripe seeds of feather grass form a veritable silver-coloured carpet.