October – what’s out and about

Fox moth larva – Macrothylacia rubi. The caterpillar are frequently seen on open moorland with their distinct velvety black or dark brown furry appearance with a striking flash of orange on each inter-segment. The larvae feed on heather, bramble and willow amongst other plants of open country before hibernating over winter. In the spring they larvae will re-emerge but not feed again before they pupate into the adult moth. The male moth can be seen flying during the day but the female is a tuely nocturnal creature.

Mountain Ponies. These animals have been grazing on the Carneddau massif for thousands of years. No-one knows their exact origin but they are a possible descendant of an equine whose 10 000 year old jaw was found near Llandudno. The ponies are hardy and are selective grazers. They are likely to eat poor-quality grasses, unlike cattle and sheep. This encourages heathers to germinate by removing competitive grasses maintaining a diverse heathland. They have also been associated with one of Britains rarest breeding birds, the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), which feeds on invertebrates in the short grass.

Round-leaved sundew – Drosera rotundifolia. One of three carnivorous plant groups found in the UK. The leaves are covered in hairs which secrete a sticky liquid which traps insects landing on the leaves. The leaf releases enzymes which digest the insect. This is an important source of nutrients in the nutrient poor bogs where they are found. The bogs and wet places of Britain are an ideal habitat for round-leaved sundew which is found across north America through Europe north and Asia. It has a long history of herbal use from an aphrodisiac to respiratory muscle relaxant relieving breathing difficulties.

Western gorse – Ulex gallii. Difficult to distinguish from common gorse, Western gorse is seen flowering profusely in the late summer and autumn whereas common gorse has ripe, black seedpods. It is darker in colour being yellowish green as opposed to blue green. It is also a dwarf shrub and occurs as compact single bushes, never forming extensive tall thickets as common gorse does. It is found on exposed Atlantic coastal heaths up to 450m altitude on poor soils. Its ability to fix-nitrogen and withstand fire allows it to be an important plant in these managed habitats.

glaucous sedge – Carex flacca. Also known as blue or carnation sedge this is a common sedge found in swampy ground, bogs, marshes and calcareous grassland throughout Britain. The pale bluish-green leaves are similar in colour to carnation leaves – hence its name.

Black spot fungus of Sycamore – Rhytisma acerinum. A member of fungi that infect the leaves of maples. The disease is known as “tar spot”. The heaviest infections occur in areas of clean air hence its usefulness as a bioindicator of air pollution. The fungi overwinters on infected leaves that fall to the ground. In the spring the fungus ripens releasing wind-blown spores which may land on the new leaves where it germinates and starts a new disease cycle.

Purple moor grass – Molinia caerulea. This tussock-forming grass is common and often dominant on damp, peat areas of moors and heaths in areas of high rainfall. The flowerhead is usually purple but may be pink, yellow or green. Purple moor grass pastures are an important habitat and support a variety of orchid species, marsh fritillary butterfly, curlew, snipe and barn owl.

Silk button spangle galls – Neuroterus numismalis. A common gall of oak trees occurring on the underside of the leaf where up to 100 can be found on a single leaf. They are produced by a tiny cynipid wasp, which has a complex lifecycle, in its asexual generation. It is one of over 40 species of oak gall. Galls can be produced by wasps, mites, midges, beetle larvae, moth, fungi or bacteria. The abnormal growth forms occur on oak twigs or leaves and vary widely in shape and size but the process responsible for stimulating the oak is not properly understood.

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