Curry and Mr Whippy ice creams – the hidden wildlife wonders of our woods

From fruity slugs and spiders to a curry and “Mr whippy ice creams” – welcome to the little known wonders of our woodland. The Woodland Trust – the UK’s...

From fruity slugs and spiders to a curry and “Mr whippy ice creams” – welcome to the little known wonders of our woodland.

The Woodland Trust – the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity – has plucked out a top ten of the weird and wacky wildlife that many people will never have heard of that live in our UK woodland.

Alastair Hotchkiss, conservation advisor at the Woodland Trust said: “Many people love to visit our woodlands for a relaxing walk and will be used to seeing common critters like blackbirds, bumblebees or perhaps a badger . However, take a peak a little closer and there are in fact many, often hidden, but remarkable stories being played out within our woodlands. Picking ten was not easy as our woodlands have many more tales to tell.”

Ten woodland wonders:

1) The curry milkcap (Lactarius camphoratus) – this small brownish-red mushroom may look rather unremarkable, but as it begins to dry delivers the most amazingly rich smell of curry powder. The name milkcap refers to the milky latex that is exuded from the gills under the mushroom cap, when they are cut or torn. Milkcaps are one group of mycorrhizal fungi which form symbiotic associations with trees, helping in the exchange of nutrients and water.

2) Lemon slug (Malacolimax tenellus) – an ancient woodland slug which is so named due to its bright yellow appearance. It snuggles down in ancient woodland, and head outs in the evening for some fine dining on big mushrooms like penny buns/porcini in late summer and autumn. For the rest of the year, it is thought to live underground.
3) Mr-Whippy spider (Paidiscura pallens) – This tiny yellow spider lays its egg sack on the underside of oak leaves and it looks, rather remarkably like a whippy ice cream.

4) Campion anther smut fungus (Microbotryum lycnhidis-dioicae) – a sneaky little fungus which produces spores on the anthers of red campion flowers so that pollinators trying to get a tasty meal of pollen end up transporting its spores everywhere – it also changes the sex of the campion plants so that they are all male!

5) Tree lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) –  The name lungwort was given to it long ago, when it was thought to have medicinal properties for respiratory ailments. More recently, this lichen has been found to contain compounds which break down the prion proteins of currently incurable diseases like BSE, CJD, Scrapie etc. Whilst only a few lichens have been given common names, those that have are some of the best, such as the string-of-sausages lichen (Usnea articulata).

6) Log-jam hoverfly (Chalcosyrphus eunotus) – this spring hoverfly sits on sunlit log-jams in woodland streams, where their larvae munch through the soft wet wood. No one really knows what the adults eat, as they have never been observed eating nectar or pollen from flowers. They may go up into the trees for the sweet sticky honeydew provided by aphids, or tree flowers. Log-jams in woodland streams are an important habitat for many other invertebrates and can also form natural flood management by holding back water.

7) Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi): The wasp spider is a great mimic – looking just like a common wasp keeps it safe from predators, even though it is not dangerous itself. It can be found in Southern England but is spreading north.

8) Yellow necked mouse: Closely related to the wood mouse, the yellow-necked mouse was only recognised as a separate species in 1834. As the name suggests, it has a band of yellow fur on the neck, but otherwise appears very similar to the wood mouse. Yellow-necked mice are also larger, at around 1.5 times the weight of their relative. It is particularly common in ancient woodlands.

9) Slime mould: Slime molds are among the world’s strangest organisms. Long mistaken for fungi, they are now classed as a type of amoeba. As single-celled organisms, they have neither neurons nor brains. Yet for about a decade, scientists have debated whether slime molds have the capacity to learn about their environments and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There are great videos on the internet of slime molds completing mazes!

10) Hawfinch: The Hawfinch is the UK’s largest finch, with an enormous bill powerful enough to crush a cherry stone. Despite their size, they are typically elusive and people will very rarely spot one, especially during the summer nesting season.

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