Top five facts about...
- There are four species of native owls in the UK: tawny owls, barn owls, short-eared owls and long-eared owls. Little owls were introduced back in the 19th century, while other species (like eagle owls and snowy owls) are mostly escaped pets or temporary visitors.
- We think of owls as coming out after dark, but many of them can be seen in daylight. Short-eared owls are entirely diurnal (day dwelling), while tawnies will hunt during the day if they’re feeding chicks. Barn owls are mostly crepuscular, which means they’re about at dusk and dawn. So really, it’s only long-eared owls that are almost entirely nocturnal.
- Owls are often considered to be wise. This may be because in Greek and Roman legends they were associated with Athena (or Minerva), who was the goddess of wisdom.
- If asked to make an owl noise, most people will probably go ‘twit-twoo’ – which is a good impression of a tawny owl. But none of our other owls hoot. Long-eared owls have a shorter, more plaintive call, while short-eared owls sound a bit like they’re saying ‘coo-eee’. Barn owls shriek, which can be a bit unnerving if you don’t know what it is! They also snore.
- Specially-adapted feathers allow owls to fly in almost complete silence so that they can sneak up on their prey without being heard. They also have binocular vision, which helps them to judge distances, and can see extremely well in the dark. But they can’t move their eyes, which is why they have to turn their heads to look around. Owls can swivel their heads by 270 degrees each way, which is almost all the way round!
- Badgers are a member of the weasel family. Other UK species in this family include weasels (obvs), stoats, otters and pine martens.
- Badgers are very strong, excellent diggers and climbers and can run surprisingly fast if they need to. They don’t have great eyesight, but they have amazing hearing and a very powerful sense of smell.
- Badgers are omnivores, which means they’ll eat all sorts of different foods. They particularly like worms, but will eat slugs and beetles, berries and other fruits like apples, nuts, birds eggs, carrion, and small mammals, including mice, rabbits and even hedgehogs!
- They live in family groups all year round, but also go out on their own to hunt for food. Their complex underground homes are called a sett, and each family group may have several setts that they move to at different times of the year. They’re quite clean animals, and change their bedding regularly. They even dig latrines!
- Badgers are usually thought of as an animal of the woods and countryside, but they’re very adaptable. If a town or city suburb grows up around them, they can sometimes survive by foraging in gardens, parks and other greenspaces.
- Hedgehogs have surprisingly big territories, and can walk over 2km every night on their quest for food. That’s why hard boundaries between gardens can cause them problems, because things like walls restrict their movements. If you want hedgehogs in your garden, you need to make sure that they can get in by providing them access holes.
- Hedgehogs have a reputation for eating slugs and snails, but these aren’t a huge part of their diet. In fact, if they eat too many slugs, it can make them ill! They actually eat a wide range of foods, including lots of invertebrates, like worms, beetles and spiders, as well as more-unexpected food sources, like carrion, fallen fruit, and birds’ eggs.
- The hedgehog’s spines are made of the same material as human hair. They’re very sharp, but not poisonous, though hedgehogs are known to lick unpleasant substances that they come across and then spread them on their spines, possibly for an extra layer of protection. Like hair, hedgehogs shed their spines and new ones grow in, though sometimes, if they’re ill or stressed, all their spines can fall out at once. The average hedgehog is thought to have more than 5,000 spines!
- The hedgehog’s habit of rolling up into a ball is a very effective defensive manoeuvre. They do it using special muscles, which allow them to pull in their heads and feet (a bit like closing a draw-string bag) and hold all of the spines out at different angles making them spikey all over.
- Hedgehogs are one of only three UK mammals that truly hibernate in winter (the other two being bats and dormice). If it’s a warm winter, they might hibernate late or wake early, and they will also wake up during the winter and move to a different nest. Hibernation is different from normal sleep, as their heartbeat and breathing slows right down, and they have to rely entirely on fat stores to survive without eating.
- The UK is home to 59 species of butterflies, but over 2,500 species of moths! They come in a huge variety of colours, from the bright-pink elephant hawk-moth to the beautifully camouflaged buff-tip. They also range massively in size, with everything from tiny micros, right up to the palm-sized convolvulus hawk-moth. If you’re ever struggling to work out whether something is a butterfly or a moth, butterflies have clubbed antennae.
- Scientists aren’t really sure why moths are attracted to lights, but there are a few theories. The most popular theory is that they navigate using UV reflections off the moon and get baffled by other artificial lights, but we don’t know for sure. Do you have any good theories? Maybe you could be the one to solve the mystery!
- Moths fly at night to try to avoid predators, but that doesn’t mean they’re always successful. They’re really important to the environment because they’re a staple food for lots of wildlife, including spiders, frogs, owls and bats. But their importance doesn’t stop there. Many of our top garden birds rely on moth caterpillars to feed their chicks. Even hedgehogs eat caterpillars!
- Not all moths come out at night. Around 150 species can be seen out and about in the daytime. These include species like the silver-y, the six-spot burnet, and the very distinctive hummingbird hawkmoth.
- Moth caterpillars eat all sorts of different things, like leaves, lichens, and even other caterpillars. Once they become adults, some moths don’t feed at all, because they only live for a few days, while others drink nectar from night-flowering plants. Moths are rarely celebrated as pollinators, but they could be as important as bees!
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