Wildlife spotted at Formby National Trust
The month of August has given us plenty of reliable, warm holiday weather, but the heatwave we've experienced has also caused a significant impact on the National Trust Formby land. Now we are in September, more changeable weather appears to be on its way. Plenty of rain and cooler temperatures give the flora and fauna of Formby a chance to recover and are a sure sign that Autumn is on its way.
Larkhill Lane Dune Heath is looking resplendent at the moment and is well worth taking a stroll through. End of summer, beginning of autumn is a good time to check out the heathland specialist plants there. Heather (Calluna vulgaris) is the sole species in the genus Calluna in the flowering plant family Ericaceae. It is a low-growing perennial shrub only reaching 20 to 50 centimetres in height. It’s delicate pink flowers appear from August to October, so now is a good time to visit. It forms a perfect habitat for many of our native insects including butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, ladybirds and grasshoppers.
A member of the lovely MVEA team, although working, couldn’t help but notice this dazzling caterpillar sauntering across the grass and then onto the sand at the entrance of National Trust Lifeboat Road property. The caterpillar will pupate and emerge as a Goat Moth. This moth gets its English name from the strong 'goaty' odour of the caterpillar.
The caterpillar was off in search of various deciduous trees, where it will burrow into the trunk and feed on the wood. It then needs a long digestion period for this food matter. The larvae often live for up to five years before pupating.
The adults fly in June and July and are among the heaviest of British moths. It is locally widespread in the south, and scarcer further north in Britain.
Another member of our MVEA team saw and photographed three different species of wasp larvae galls on Dog-rose bushes and oak trees onsite. Often found in woodlands in autumn, they are frequently overlooked or thought to be part of the tree its self but are actually wasp larvae. Little green and brown apples covered in honey, foliate protuberances grow where the acorns should be. They formed last month when a tiny gall wasp, ( Andricus quercuscalicis), inoculated embryonic acorn buds with her eggs. The oak responded in an entirely specific way to this wasp by producing growths known as knopper galls, from a German name for a type of helmet.
They had not be seen in Britain until sometime in the 1960’s but there was a spike in the knopper population in 1979 and people were worried that the iconic British oaks were in danger of not producing viable acorns. Although the wasps have spread as far north as Scotland, this appears to have not been the case, and knopper galls have joined the rich community of life that inhabits the oaks. The galls are communities themselves too, containing microhabitants such as inquilines (cynipid wasps lay eggs in the gall and their larvae feed on the oak tissue) and parasitoids (chalcid and ichneumon wasps inject their eggs into the gall wasp larvae to feed on them).
Robin's Pincushion (also known as the 'Bedeguar Gall') is a gall caused by the larvae of a tiny gall wasp, ( Dipoloepis rosae.). The gall is widespread and common, and can be found developing on the stems of Dog-roses during late summer; it acquires its reddish colour as it matures in autumn. Each gall holds many grubs, which feed on the gall tissues throughout the winter and emerge in spring as adults. The larvae moult about 5 times before going into the pupal stage in October. The pupae over-winter inside the gall, only finally start emerging in the following February or March through to August. The adults reproduce asexually and only a tiny number are male.
We would like to say a massive thanks to Chris Vere, Fiona Mathews and Rob Larsen-Pass for supplying and allowing us to use their fantastic photographs.
Please get in touch with the National Trust if you have encounted any wildlife whilst visiting National Trust Formby. Send us your sightings with a location or even better if you can send in a photograph.
For more information you can visit our webiste: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/formby