Hairy snails, spiny seahorses and ocean quahogs; who knew these creatures lived here, in the UK?
As well as charting the fortunes of the familiar ladybirds, golden eagles and otters, the groundbreaking State of Nature report features a whopping 3,148 species. However, only the hardcore enthusiasts know many of these. So, I decided it was time to give these unknown species their chance in the limelight. I’ve looked through the report to bring you what I think are the 10 weirdest and most wonderful species:
German hairy snail
One of our rarest molluscs, within the UK it’s found only along the River Thames in London and Oxfordshire, and the River Medway in Kent. Admittedly, they don’t actually look that hairy, but then it is only the size of your fingernail. I’ve researched how it gets it’s hairy name: it’s thought that small hairs grow through its shell, allowing it to sweat off moisture and therefore stick to plants better. You’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cool, if a little weird!
A look at the image of this species shows you exactly why it gets its name: it’s a spider that looks a bit like a ladybird. Thought extinct in the UK for over 70 years, in 1980 a colony was found clinging on to UK existence on a Dorset heathland. Despite an increasing population, they’ve not spread out since then, so back in 2011 we were involved in a partnership project, creating a new location for one of the UK’s rarest spiders.
Did you know that there are actually two species of seahorse found in UK waters? With the spiny seahorse found as far north as Shetland? First things first, seahorses are fish. Admittedly pretty weird looking ones, but fish none the less. What is weirder is that the males give birth – the female transfers the eggs to the male, he self-fertilises them and then a few weeks later gives birth to the next generation of spiny seahorses.
As well as being a fictional New England town in the TV animation Family Guy, a quahog is a big cockle, or clam. The ocean quahog lives buried in sand, with just a small tube extending up into the sea to filter out food. Living up to 400 years old, quahog numbers are taking a long time to recover from commercial fishing, because of their slow-growing nature.
B*stard gumwood tree
In St Helena, a remote UK Overseas Territory deep in the South Atlantic Ocean, the last b*stard gumwood tree left in the wild clings to a desolate cliff. Inspiring conservation work, including hand-pollinating this last surviving tree is now helping to bring this species back from the brink.
(I've had to spell this tree with an asterisk, as its name can also be used as a term of offence. The software we use automatically strips out words like this. But hopefully the only thing that offends you here is that this species is on the brink of extinction).
Large blue butterfly
The largest and rarest of the UK’s blue butterflies, the large blue became extinct in the UK back in 1979. However, it’s now thriving again thanks to a re-introduction scheme. This elegant butterfly has a remarkable lifestyle, spending most of the year in the nests of red ants. How do they get there? Well, the larvae drop off plants and attract foraging ants with a sweet, honey-like liquid. The ants then pick up the butterfly larvae and take them back to the nest. Here they feed on the ant grubs, hibernate and, come May, the fully-grown adults crawl up through the ant nest, and emerge into the sunshine.
Actually a bush-cricket, the wart-biter gets its name from the bizarre practice of Swedish peasants using the crickets to bite off warts! Although doubts remain how effective this treatment actually was! Catching one to use as wart-remover might be tricky though, as there are just five small populations left in the UK, all living on southern England’s lowland heathland.
A carnivorous plant, it catches unsuspecting insects with its sticky hairs, before digesting them with acid. It’s one way to grab a bite to eat I suppose! It grows in marshes, bogs and fens, where the sticky dew on it’s bright red leaves has evolved due to lack of nutrients in the soil.
For the moment the Snowdon lily hangs on, living on the cold north-facing slopes of Snowdonia National Park. But for how much longer? Left behind after the last ice-age, and found only within the National Park boundaries, this arctic-alpine specialist still finds the climate up in the heights of Wales to it’s liking! Unfortunately, it also has the dubious honour of being named the first British plant likely to go extinct because of climate change.
The last one on my list, the mottled bee-fly is another heathland creature that has seen its home shrink. It’s probably a parasite, with its larvae developing inside sand wasps or the caterpillars the wasps collect for their own larvae. When developed, the host dies and the bee-fly flies free. But this isn’t known for sure, which just goes to show that there’s so much more about the scarcer species in the UK that we just don’t know.
What makes your top 10?
There we have it, that’s my countdown of the ten weirdest and most wonderful creatures from the State of Nature report. Most of these elusive critters are in trouble. But, as the report shows, with targeted conservation work, there is a chance for them all.
Are there any weird and wonderful creatures I’ve left out? What’s in your make your top ten? Let me know my leaving a comment below.
Dawn in spring is a cacophony of noise. Our resident birds tune up for the day ahead, proclaiming their territories and warning off rivals.
It’s well worth getting up early out of your warm, cosy bed. But can you tell your blackbird from your blackcap? If not, to get you started in the wonderful world of birdsong, here’s a few common species you might hear, including links to our website so you can listen to them before you head out. (Plus if you read to the end, I might give you a bonus bird...)
First up, your blackbird. Now as a common garden bird, most people in the UK can identify one, and I’m sure many know it’s lovely, flutey, mellow song, repeated every two-three seconds. Some have regular song-posts, so you’ll be able to catch up with your garden regulars. Blackbirds often kick off the dawn chorus, so once you hear one singing, keep listening!
Blackcaps are next up as a bird to try. A common migrant to the UK in spring, lots of scrub patches and gardens should harbour a pair or two by now. Listen along on the website, can you pick up the melodic warble? They tend vary the tempo a bit, and each song lasts around five seconds on average.
Another garden favourite is the robin. Like their blackbird cousins, robins are early risers and will be there at the start of the dawn chorus. In fact, robins will even sing at night, especially in the presence of streetlights. These red-breasted songsters give out a quite varied song, with fast warbled notes, followed up with a few elongated notes. Best thing to do is have a listen, you may have already heard one without knowing it!
We’re going down a different route now, try a willow warbler. It was once described to me as like water flowing down a stream, and that’s how I hear their melodious warble. It’s much different to it’s almost identical cousin, the chiffchaff, which says its name. Over and over again.
Give it a try...
So that’s five to try. I’m sure you can hear them all this weekend, as they cover the vast majority of the UK. Be sure to let me know how you get on, but hurry, miss it and you'll have to wait til next year.
And remember, you can listen to the songs and calls of most of the UK’s species on our website. But. if you want to hear the experience for yourself in your own home, try listening to recent Living World show on BBC iPlayer. It was recorded at our Coombes Valley nature reserve in Staffordshire.
Special, bonus bird!
Ok, this one is special. They don’t occur over the whole of the UK, so you will have to work to get one of these. But the song of the nightingale is so entrancing, that that once you’ve nailed some of the common species you’ll want to go and listen to them! With near-legendary status, the silence-shattering burst builds up into the full song. Just listen to it. It’s magic.
It felt almost like May yesterday.
So in true British style myself and a few friends tried to make the most of a little bit of sun, and headed to a newly opened beer garden in the town we live in. The beer was great, but the star attractions were above our heads.
Swooping, scything and screaming through the sky were swifts. Finally, they have returned!
I've seen dribs and drabs over the last few weeks, but at last there were 10, or even 20 at a time screaming through the skies as I supped my beer. The pub in question is at the heart of the old town, and here swifts squeeze into barely noticable cracks and crevices to lay their eggs and raise their chicks. They even nest in the roof of the pub!
So, today's Monday Moment, is a shot of a swift poking its head up from a roof - not a shot you see very often. So next time you find yourself in a beer garden, why not try looking up too?
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I don't know why, but whenever I see a starling I end the encounter with a big grin on my face.
Maybe it's because they remind me of a childhood spent listening to their scrabbling around in the loft above my bedroom, attempting to raise a family.
Or, maybe it's because of their beautiful feathers that iridesce as they catch the summer sunlight.
Whatever the reason, I hope these two put a smile on your face today.
Find an image to put a smile on your face - check out RSPB Images.