RSPB’s Morwenna Alldis reveals the weird and wonderful world of nature emerging this autumn.
As October’s days and nights grow cooler, you may get the urge to hide under a blanket and binge watch Halloween flicks, hot chocolate in hand. But take time to step outside and explore nature this Halloween because it’s about to reveal a strange, slimy, creepy-crawly, and sometimes hooty world – lets meet Halloween’s spooktacular wildlife.
Photo above: Wasp spider on web at night, full moon in the background. By Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Spookiest Species of the Month: Funky Fungi
Even some of the names of fungi read like a Halloween film list: dead man’s fingers, yellow brain or ‘witches butter’, elbow patch crust, devil’s tooth, and doll’s eyes. Fungi come in all shapes and sizes, a rainbow colours, and they underpin life on earth.
Photo above: Porcelain fungus on a log by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Here are the RSPB’s top five fungi facts:
1. Animal, Plant or Mineral? Fungi don’ t fit into these categories; they are a separate kingdom. There are over 15,000 species of fungi in the UK and only about 4000 of these are mushrooms and other large fungi that we easily spot in nature. You’d need a microscope to see the rest.
2. Strange fruit– mushrooms are the fruit of the fungi organism. The main part of the fungi grows underground and is called the mycelium, made up of a web of fine threads called hyphae.
Photo above: Cluster of fluted birds nest fungi by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
3. Bit whiffy – some fungi emit foul smells in a sticky, stinky substance on the outside of the mushroom, like the aptly named stinkhorn. These punchy perfumes attract flies and insects that land on the fungi, spreading the fungi’s spores when they fly away.
4. Supporting life on earth - fungi break down millions of tons of organic waste such as leaf litter and deceased animals. The decayed matter fungi then produce feeds plants, animals, and releases nitrogen and phosphorus into the atmosphere, essential nutrients in nature.
Photo above: Fly agaric fungus by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
5. Life Savers – the discovery of the Penecillium mould in 1928 by Alexander Fleming lead to the development of a commercial antibiotics, which has saved countless lives. Fungi are also important in tackling climate change; aspergillus tubingensis fungi breaks down plastic in a matter of weeks rather than the decades it takes to naturally breakdown.
Although there are a few fungi that can be eaten, some fungi are poisonous so it's best not to touch or pick them. Instead, learn where you are most likely to discover them at an RSPB reserve near you. Help children get excited about the fungi by taking part in our Fabulous Fungi Wild Challenge.
Photo above: children discovering fungi in a tree by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Other wildlife that may go bump in the night near you – boo!
Bats – we have 18 species of bats in the UK, but thankfully you don’t need to wear garlic around any of them. Take a walk at dusk and watch their jagged silhouettes dart and dive as they catch insects on the wing, filling up for hibernation. Common pipistrelle’s are our most seen bat and only weigh as much as a 20 pence coin. Don’t be fooled by their small size, they eat up to 3000 gnats in one night. Help your local bats by installing a bat nestbox, or make your own, here. Photo right: Soprano pipistrelle bat, looking out from hole in a tree by D. Mower
Spiders and mini beasts – wriggling, creeping, and crawling, the world of insects is fascinating. Our bug safari Wild Challenge is a fantastic way to discover the different species hiding in our gardens, parks, and cities. Search under damp logs, stones, and crevices in walls. Look out for spiders’ webs bejewelled with morning dew drops. RSPB The Lodge nature reserve in Bedfordshire is home to one such eight-legged beauty, the wasp spider and seen mainly along the reserve’s Skylark Trail between April-October. It looks like a wasp to ward off predators and spins large orb webs. The mating process is worthy of a horror flick, as most males are munched by the female.
Photo above: Wasp spider on its web at RSPB The Lodge nature reserve by Vincent Wright
Too-wit too-who’s there? – The sound of hooting owls can evoke an eerie feeling, a sound effect in many Halloween stories. But did you know it's just one species of our UK owls that actually make the familiar "too-wit, too-woo" call? It's the tawny owl, our largest common owl, and the well-known sound is actually two birds calling to each other. The female asks "too-wit" and the male answers "too-woo". During the winter short-eared owls can be spotted at RSPB St Aidan’s in the centre of Leeds. Watch them hunting along the hillsides, sometimes they’re described as giant moths as they silently seek out their dinner. And for a glimpse of ghostly barn owls at dusk visit RSPB Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex, or RSPB Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire.
Photo above: Tawny owl roosting in a hole in an oak tree during the daytime, by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Photo above: girl dressed as a witch enjoying and RSPB Halloween nature reserve trail by Phil Barnes (rspb-images.com)
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