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Species of the Month - January

This monthly series will highlight several species you can look out for. The aims will be to focus on teaching a little about them as well as showing the interconnections: the importance of habitat and how interactions with other plants and animals can be vital for survival - demonstrating that nothing can exist in isolation.


Mammal

The Fox - Vulpes vulpes
  • Family: Canidae

  • Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes


Foxes can be found across the British Isles and have adapted very well to life in town and city centers found in a wide range of habitats such as; wetland, coastal & marshland, deciduous woodland, mixed woodland, arable land, towns and gardens.


They live in family groups and are nocturnal, hunting at night. They live in lairs and one or more breeding dens within their territory.


They tend to be shy creatures who scavenge on whatever food. They eat a range of things including insects, earthworms, fruit, small mammals and scraps left by humans. Foxes hold territories which vary in size. Each territory is is occupied by one family group.


This is the main reason they tend to thrive in towns and can be very bold due to the amount of food waste.


January is the time when foxes are vocal as this is the main mating period with males walking their neighbouring territories looking for receptive females. As such, the deathly screams and barks are familiar sounds throughout the night.


It's not uncommon for them to create breeding dens out of the way, under sheds at the bottom of the garden.


Bird

Goldcrest - Regulus regulus

King of the birds

  • Family – Regulidae

  • Scientific name – Regulus regulus

The Goldcrest is Europe's and therefore UK's smallest bird, very closely followed by the Firecrest, weighing around the same as a 20 pence piece. They are olive-green bird with beige underparts, however, what gives them their name, is the beautiful golden stripe on top of their heads, framed by black feathers.

Both adult male and females have the golden stripe, however, the male tends to display it during mating season to attract a mate. The juvenile birds do not possess the stripe.


They are within the Passeriformes order meaning they are a perching bird, having anisodactyl toes: three facing forward and one backward. This is very important to the Goldcrest given their habitat and food.


Their preferred habitat is pine forest enjoying spruce, fir and pine trees.They are insectivorous. eating caterpillars, flies, spiders, spring tails and moth eggs. Their small, pointed beak enables them to find food among dense pine needles and can also be seen catching insects on the wing.


During winter, goldcrests can be found in mixed-species flocks along with tits and warblers. They are often seen hopping about tree trunks, branches, and twigs.

Studies reflect that goldcrests can maintain their body temperature during extreme winters by roosting collectively at night.


Their prey include; the Eurasian sparrowhawk, merlins and tawny owls. Their flight can often be erratic and will be found flying in flocks, thought to be a way of avoiding predation.

Interactive image from GardenBird.co.uk


Plant

Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis
  • Family: Amaryllidaceae

  • Scientific name: Galanthus nivalis

Whilst they are not native to the UK, they are a very familiar flower seen between January and March and are a hopeful sight of the changing of seasons from Winter to Spring, one of the reasons one of their common names is 'flower of hope'.



They tend to be found in broad leaved woodland, along riverbanks, parks, and meadows, carpeting the ground. They flower from bulbs so reproduce without the need of pollinators. Nevertheless, their white flowers can provide a vital food source for insects emerging early in the year such as flies and bees. They aid their friends by opening the flower by moving their petals upwards and outwards at around 10°C, when the pollinators are likely to be flying.


There are around 20 known species of native to Europe and the Middle East. The snowdrop in fact does not have petals but is rather made up of six white flower segments known as tepals; three larger outer tepals and three smaller inner ones.


Being a winter plant, they have adapted by containing proteins which inhibit ice crystals forming. Their leaves also have toughened tips which help to appear through frozen soil.


They have several common names including Candlemas Bells. This is due to them being traditionally taken into churches on Candlemas Day, celebrated on 2 February as a sign of purity.


The chemical Galantamine found naturally in the plant has been used to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease - but please note that bulbs are poisonous. In addition, their crushed bulbs have been used to treat headaches by rubbing them against the temples.


Where Snowdrops can be seen.



Insect

Winter Gnats - Trichoceridae
  • Family: Trichoceridae

We often think of flying insects as being found in the warmer months, however, as recently shown on Winterwatch, the winter gnat is a cranefly with the family Trichoceridae, having approximately 160 known species.


They are from the order Diptera (flys) and are widespread across the UK and can be seen in woodlands, gardens and parks. They have ocelli which are simple ‘eyes’ which aids them on dark winter days.


Swarms of them are observed close to riverbanks and glades as they are likely to keep warmer. The males perform a courtship dance which is known as ‘lekking’.


"Each male flies up and down to his own rhythm, but they cleverly space and pace themselves out to avoid colliding with others in the swarm."

Females lay their eggs on moist/wet terrestrial areas such as decaying leaves, manure, fungi and rodent burrows where they scavenge for food. They can of course be a vital source of protein for winter birds.


They are non-biting or stinging so are harmless to humans.


Check out this great video posted by @JWentomologist on Twitter


Other

Wall -screw Moss - Tortula muralis
  • Family: Pottiaceae

  • Scientific name: Tortula muralis


Moss tend to be very overlooked and considered as one large group and not as individual species. As such, in more recent years there have been a few bryologists and botanists that have brought them to greater attention such as Robin Wall Kimmerer who wrote the book Gathering Moss and Leif Bersweden, who has launched Couchto10mosses on Twitter.


Leif's first moss is tortula muralis which is one of the most common moss to find. The tongue-shaped leaf blade is 2–3.5 mm long. When wet, they spread out away from one another, but when dry, they curl.

The leaves have small white hair like structures and they can be seen prominently on top of walls.


They can tolerate some shade and grow on concrete, roof tiles and other man-made structures. They are less common on trees and wood.

It is this time of year when they produce their sporophytes. These are "small and leafless... attached to the top of the moss gametophy. It consists of a seta (slender stalk) and a terminal capsule (sporangium).


The sporophytes in turn support many different species of invertebrates including springtails, snails, nematodes, tardigrades and moth larvae.


Mosses were the first plants to blanket the Earth. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also the last. - Robin Wall Kimmerer
 

Sources below (some sources can be found in links to photos):

Fox


Goldcrest


Snowdrops


Winter gnats


Wall top moss



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