Survival of the Fittest

THE rules are pretty simple in nature. It’s a case of kill, be killed or just try to survive as long as you can. But to me nothing is more upsetting to see something being killed by another animal whether it’s a bird or a bee. This came to mind when I went to visit my geologist friend Sue Ballard recently. As I pulled up outside her house I noticed a great tit in the tree all puffed up and very stressed. When Sue came out I asked what was going on with the great tit.

 

“Blooming magpies have raided her nest box on the side of my house and eaten all the chicks,” she said.

 

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This year is the worst I have seen with magpies raiding nests and killing and eating young birds.

 

I was in the woods of Stoke Park a week or so ago and found several bird nests some with eggs and some with young chicks in.

And earlier this year I led a walk called “hidden worlds” and took a group to a spot where the day before I had come across a nest with several eggs inside.

But as we got there we found the nest empty except for the broken fragments of egg shell.

 

Magpies deploy a clever tactic when building their nests because they always construct a roof over the top. This acts as camouflage and prevents larger birds such as crows who would eat their chicks getting in.

 

In the insect world there are also predators, among them the white crab spider, so called because surprisingly they look like white crabs.

 

Another is the white death spider which sits on the top of the big flat hogweed flower.

 

They sit still and as soon as a bee or small insect gets near them they pounce on them.

 

But what’s more fascinating about these species of spider is how they go about attracting their prey in the first place.

 

Insects can see ultra violet light and most flowers emit ultra violet light to attract insects to pollinate them.

 

The body of the crab and white death spider glows ultra violet so the insect will see the glow and think they are a food source. As they land on the flower “bang” it’s over for the bees or flies.

 

Isn’t the natural world a scary yet fascinating place.

 

Steve England is an (RHS) horticulturist, amateur naturalist and chairman of the Stoke Park steering group. He lives in Lockleaze and has spent his whole life at Stoke Park from playing there as a boy to studying its history, wildlife, and pre historic past.
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