Flora and Fauna

Lake Mývatn was created when the Older - Laxárdalshraun lavafield blocked a river course in Laxárdalur valley.

Precipitation water is quickly absorbed into the bedrock and surfaces as spring water. Lake Mývatn is one of the spring water areas. About 35 cubic meters of water flows each second from a myriad of cold and warm, springs, at the banks of the lake. The water is rich in minerals, and is the main reasons for the fertility of the lake. With the aid of sunlight, which is unusually bountiful in this area, a great amount of algae grows in the lake. The algae provides sustenance for midge larvae and crabs, which are food for birds and fishes.

Lake Mývatn is large enough and its renewal of water slow enough to sustain a flourishing ecosystem despite its altitude of 278 meters above sea level. At the bottom of the lake, an abundance of midge larvae thrives, transforming into pupae and growing into midges during the summer, particularly at the beginning of June and August. The male flies gather in swarms at the lake's edge and over knolls and hills on still days. These midges are called chironomidae (rykmý) and are plenty but harmless.

Laxá river flows from Mývatn lake in three channels. It alternately cascades or flows in still pools among beautiful islets grown with wood cranesbill, angelica, buttercups and willow. The river is home to Barrow's Goldeneye and the Harlequin Duck, and it is among the best trout fishing rivers in the world.

The water in lake Mývatn often takes on a greenish or brownish tinge in the summer due to blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) that inhabit it. The algae is carried into the river Laxá, together with plankton and turbidity, and provides the basis of the food chain. River Laxá is the most fertile stream in Iceland.

Blackfly larvae sift substances from the water and constitute the river’s most important food. The female flies suck blood from livestock and people, and thus gain nourishment for breeding.


Barrow's Goldeneye is the most characteristic bird on lake Mývatn and river Laxá. The population, consisting of some 200 birds, is dependent on the ecological system of this lake area. It is a non-migratory bird and stays on holes in the ice which can be found on the river and lake throughout the winter. Barrow's Goldeneye is one of the few species in Iceland that originated in the western hemisphere. In the Rocky Mountains of North America, it nests in holes in trees, but at lake Mývatn, it nests in holes and crevices in the lava field. A considerable number of nests can also be found in sheep houses and barns, where nesting boxes have been provided the for the birds.

The largest habitation of Slavonian Crebe in Iceland is in the Mývatn district, with more than 200 pairs nesting there on average. The bird builds floating nests in vegetation at the bank of the lake, most often under bushes that droop over the water or in duckweed.

Two other species that can rarely be found in Iceland live in the area. These are the Common Scoter and Gadwall. The Common Scoter is a diving duck, and is most commonly seen on the west part of the lake. The males are easily recognizable due to their all-black colour. The Gadwall is a dabbing duck and is scattered all over the area.

Harlequin Ducks can be found all over Iceland, but they are more common in Laxá than anywhere else. They live only on rivers during the summers and cannot be found on lake Mývatn.

All species of Icelandic water birds, apart from Common Shelduck, nest in the Mývatn and Laxá area. The Tufted Duck is the most common, but Scaup, Wigeon, Teal and Red-breasted Merganser are also common. The Red-necked Phalarope is also very common. Whooper Swans and Greylag Geese are often seen, and a large flock of swans resides in the Mývatn area throughout the summer. Pink-footed geese nest in the highlands south of the lake, and to some extent by the lake. A few pairs of Great Northern Driver and Red-throated Driver nest in the Mývatnssveit district. Blackheaded Gull and Arctic Tern are common, and most species of waders, Passerines and birds of prey can be found in the area. Ptarmigans are particularly common, and several pairs of Gyrfalcon nest here, as well as some pairs of Short-eared Owl and Merlin.


River trout is caught in great abundance in lake Mývatn, but Brown trout can be caught there also. A special variant of the Arctic Char can be found in the cold spring areas in the lake, but in caves in the lava field, there are small Char called “gjáarlontur”. In the upper part of river Laxá, Brown trout is the main catch, but a little Arctic Char is sometimes caught there, too. Salmon migrates from the sea to the lower parts of the river. Farmers lay nets in Mývatn lake in the summer and winter, and they fish using a hook and line in late winter. You can buy a licence to fly-fish.

Agriculture and other Industries

Sheep farming has been the most important livelihood in Mývatn district for centuries. Hay was obtained from the islands, wetlands and banks of the lake. In the winter, hay was moved home on sleighs, but in many out-lying places sheep grazed both summer and winter. Sulphur was mined and exported from the hot spring areas, such as Mt. Námafjall and Fremrinámur mines. The exploitation of nature resources in the area has a long history. Trout fishing has been practiced for centuries, angling in the winter and net fishing in the summer and autumn. The trout is frequently flattened and salted one night and then smoked with dung. Fresh eggs are collected from the nests of the most common birds. A diatomite plant was built at Bjarnarflag in 1966-67, pumping diatomaceous deposits up from the bottom of lake Mývatn. The plant was closed in  2004. The Krafla power plant uses geothermal power to produce electricity. The Mývatnssveit district is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland and provides a variety of tourism-related services. Accommodation in hotels, at farms or at designated camp sites is available. There are also restaurants, grocery shops, swimming pool and the Nature Baths in the area.