BBC Wildlife Magazine
Seven species to spot
In the summertime, when the weather is fine, we’ve got wildlife on our minds (as usual).
What to look for in July
1 | CRAB SPIDER Deadly disguise
Lurking among the nation’s herbaceous borders and other flowery places are predators with a chameleon-like talent for changing colour. Female crab spiders can often match their background beautifully, but for some reason the smaller males don’t possess this skill. Of the 30 or so species of crab spider in Britain, the most widespread is Misumena vatia, females of which seek out prominent flowers with wide heads such as ox-eye daisies, hogweed, thistles or knapweed. When in position, one of these spiders will sit perfectly still with her two front legs held out in front, waiting for an unsuspecting bee, fly or butterfly to visit her chosen bloom. Big mistake. The ambusher strikes, punctures the exoskeleton of her prey, then slurps out the juices.
A spider can detect its victims with virtually every part of its body. “Spiders have an unnerving awareness,” says the naturalist Paul Evans in his book Field Notes from the Edge. “Three pairs of eyes, sensory palps around their mouths, hairs with a sense of touch and proprioception – like hearing and a sense of self, body position, movement and acceleration.” Pretty hair-raising – no wonder spiders are among the most efficient predators on Earth.
FIND OUT MORE
More about Britain’s invertebrates: buglife.org.uk
2 | MOON JELLYFISH Blooming marvels
Summer sees jellyfish appear along our coasts, prompting sensationalist headlines in the media. But while several found in UK waters do sting humans, few are dangerous. One of the most abundant harmless species is the moon jelly, which drifts into harbours, sheltered bays and Scottish lochs. It has a transparent ‘bell’ – the umbrellashaped part of the animal – and feeds on plankton. Sometimes its numbers build into dense swarms, a beautiful spectacle that is getting more common due, in part, to rising sea temperatures. FIND OUT MORE Jellyfish in Britain: bit.ly/mcsuk–jelly
3 | FOX MOTH Super furry animal
Two stunning identification guides to British caterpillars were published this year, so the munching machines are finally getting more attention from naturalists. After all, these larvae are often far more interesting to look at than the adult moths they turn into. Many hide among vegetation or high up on trees, but some, like the fox moth caterpillar, trundle about in plain view. Safe in its shaggy coat, this ‘fat cat’ can sunbathe in moorland and heathy or grassy places knowing that hungry birds will leave it be. FIND OUT MORE Know your ‘cats’: discoverwildlife. com/common-caterpillars
Back from the brink 4 | PEREGRINE
Britain’s peregrine recovery started slowly in the 1980s, then numbers shot up in the 1990s and have continued to rise. Now many areas (except in Scotland and the north) have reached peregrine capacity, and in towns and cities, safe from persecution, there are well over 100 breeding pairs. Urban peregrine chicks tend to fledge earlier, often before they can fly properly, leading to accidents, as birds become stuck or grounded. In July, you can see the successful juveniles together as they practise flying under the watchful eye of their parents, who still feed them.
FIND OUT MORE
More about urban peregrines: peregrinenetwork.org
5 | SWIFT Life’s a scream
Gilbert White, the parson-naturalistdiarist born 300 years ago this month, was obsessed with swifts. He pondered how they mate, gather nest material, learn to fly, where they go in winter. Like us today, he also loved the sound of their screaming parties (that’s the technical term), where squadrons of swifts tear helter-skelter around rooftops at dusk. These boisterous social gatherings include breeding pairs and nonbreeders, becoming more frequent as summer wears on and the birds’ August migration approaches.
FIND OUT MORE
How to help swifts: swift-conservation.org 6 | COMMON KNAPWEED Nectar nirvana
Described as “Lucozade for bees” by Professor Dave Goulson, knapweed produces copious amounts of nectar. Together with white clover and marsh thistle, it was found by a team led by the University of Bristol to be one of the most important British wildflowers for pollinating insects. Common, or black, knapweed is a widespread grassland plant, and thrives in gardens – you can grow it from seed. After flowering, the seed heads are popular with goldfinches and bullfinches.
Download wildflower spotter sheets: plantlife.org.uk/uk/ discover-wild-plants-nature/ spotter-sheets
7 | HONEYCOMB WORM Reef builders
Corals aren’t the only animals able to create reefs – marine worms can, too. Honeycomb worms are named for the substantial shoreline structures they produce, which are actually colonies made up of many individual worm tubes, each built from grains of sand or shell fragments. The worm cities cover rocks entirely, and clumps may spread out to form reefs. Look for them at low tide on southern and western coasts, in places such as Cornwall, Devon, the Severn Estuary, Cardigan Bay and Morecambe Bay.
FIND OUT MORE
All about the species: honeycombworms.org