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Species of the Month - May 2023

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

May sees us moving into the more stable, warmer months, bringing out a wider range of species.


Below are details of a few species to look out for.


Mammal

Common Pipistrelle - Pipistrellus pipistrellus
  • Family: Vespertilionidae

  • Scientific name: Pipistrellus pipistrellus

For the most part, bats came out of hibernation in April. The Pipistrelles are the most common British bats, weighing the same as a 20p piece. One can eat 3,000 tiny insects per night. Flies are the main prey, but they will also eat lacewings, mayflies, midges and mosquitoes. They feed using The bat catches these insects in flight, using echolocation to locate prey and avoid flying into obstacles.


Britain has sixteen species of insects eating bats, thus providing a natural insecticide.


Trees and woodland are important habitat for common pipistrelles providing cover as bats emerge. They tend to forage by following woodland edges. Hunting often takes place close to rivers and other water features, as this is where the bat’s insect prey is most abundant.


Bats are nocturnal and the only mammal to have evolved powered flight. They form a special group of their own: the Chiroptera, meaning ‘hand-wing’. Bats are generally only seen briefly at dusk.


It has golden-brown fur, a slightly paler underside and a dark mask around the face. Its flight is rapid with lots of twists and turns. The soprano pipistrelle is similar in appearance, so the two can be difficult to tell apart.


They roost in tree holes, bat boxes and roof spaces in small colonies. During the summer, females form maternity colonies and have one pup each. They can be seen just after sunset, darting about as they hunt for insects in gardens or around streetlights.


Bird

Whitethroat - Curruca communis
  • Family: Warbler

  • Scientific name: Curruca communis

This bird is a medium-sized warbler, about the size of a great tit. The male has a grey head, a white throat and a brown back. They tend to inhabit open country and cultivation, nesting in bushes. They are common in hedgerows and may occasionally nest in woodland edges.

It is a migrant bird which means we get to see it while it passes over the UK for the summer, wintering south of the Sahara in Africa. It can be tough for them to find enough food for the journey north from Africa. Berries from Salvadora bushes are very important as they are rich in sugar.


Males often perch conspicuously on the top of a bush while singing. The song has a distinctive 'scratchy' sound.


Nests are built in low shrubs or brambles and they lay. The male builds several nests for the female to choose from - she will line the one that she likes best with fine grasses and hair. Typically, four to five eggs are laid between May and July and chicks hatch after two weeks and leave the nest after roughly 14 days.


They feed on insects, and berries and fruit in autumn.


Fact: The 1968 drought in the western Sahel region of Africa resulted in a 90% drop in the UK breeding numbers. According to the BTO, populations are still yet to fully recover.


Plant

Wisteria - Salix
  • Family: Salicaceae

  • Scientific name: Salix sp.

The list of hardy bee-friendly climbing plants would be incomplete without wisteria (Wisteria).


They have unmistakable clusters of fragrant flowers, known as racemes, which hang from the twining branches in late spring. Flower colours include white, lilac-blue, pink and dark purple. The branches are covered with a mass of mid-green leaves which turn yellow in the autumn.





It belongs to the pea family which includes soybeans, peas, clovers, and peanuts. They are known for their large quantities of nectar and pollen, which is what bees look for. Therefore, bees, bumblebees and other insects flock to its flowers. Birds are also known to feed on buds in spring.


It is an early bloomer, usually reaching its peak around the end of May or early June making a bountiful food source for pollinators.


Insect

Speckled Wood - Pararge aegeria
  • Family: Nymphalidae

  • Scientific name: Pararge aegeria

This is common butterfly which as the name suggests, can be found around woodland edges but also hedgerows and gardens.


It enjoys flying around dappled sunlight. Adults feed on honeydew, the sugary-rich liquid, secreted by aphid, while caterpillars feed on a variety of grasses, including false broom and cock's-foot. They don't tend to visit garden flowers but frequent thistles for nectar and feed off the honeydew found on the leaves of trees such as lime and sycamore.


They are dark brown with creamy yellow spots on their wings. They have three small, cream-ringed eyespots on each hindwing and one on each fore-wing. Both male and female look almost the same. The female has slightly bright coloration and is a bit larger in size.



They produce two generations a year which overlap because of the extended emergence of the first brood. Those that hibernate as pupae emerge in April while the overwintered larvae emerge several weeks later. This tendance to pupate and emerge from it all year round, with a spike in the summer months is unlike many other butterflies. As such, they can be seen April - October.


Males establish territories mostly in sunny but sheltered spots in woodland and along hedgerows about one or two meters above ground.

 

This monthly series aims to 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.


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

Bats

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/mammals/common-pipistrelle-bat/


Whitethroat


Speckled Wood


Wisteria


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