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Dormouse, Fern, Fox, Fox Skull & Bones
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A Dog's Stinkhorn fungus emerges from the forest
floor. This unusual looking fungus is actually just the reproductive part of a
much larger underground structure of fibrous fungi cells. These help decompose dead
organic material such as leaf litter, returning the nutrients to the soil for use by
living plants. Fungi do nut produce seeds in order to reproduce, but a truly
enormous number of tiny spores which are often carried by the wind to new sites suitable
for fungi growth. The Dogs Stinkhorn fungus is different in that it does not rely on
the wind to transport its spores. Instead, when the spores on the dark pointed tip
are ripe, the fungus secretes a slimy, stinking fluid which is attractive to flies.
When they land on the sticky tip, they inadvertently collect fungal spores that get
stuck to their bodies. These spores are then distributed to other locations by the
fly as it moves to different food sources.
More on fungi
A sleeping Dormouse. Dormice
are small nocturnal mammals about 60-90mm in length that are rarely seen unless found by
accident. They have orange coloured fur and are the only small British mammal to
have a thick bushy tail. They spend most of their waking hours at night climbing
amongst the branches of trees feeding on flowers, nuts, fruits and insects but spend up to
three quarters of their lives asleep or in hibernation. Dormice have been in decline
in Britain during the last century. Reasons for this are thought to be the loss of
suitable habitat and the decline of coppicing, a management technique which can provide
ideal habitat of mixed food plants with interlocking twigs or branches. Because they
are nocturnal and arboreal (spend lots of time in the trees) Dormice are seldom seen,
however they do leave signs of their presence. These include a ball shaped nest made
of woven honeysuckle bark and surrounded by leaves, often found in low bramble bushes or
dense ground cover.
Another characteristic sign of Dormice are the carefully gnawed hazelnut shells. To
reach and eat the nut inside, Dormice chew an almost perfect round hole with a smooth
inner edge and neat toothmarked outer edge.
Looking down into the centre of a fern. There
are over 12,000 species of ferns and similar plants to be found in different parts of the
world, ranging from tropical rainforests to freshwater lakes and semi-arid deserts.
Fossils of ferns have been found dating back over 400 million years. Unlike many
other plants, ferns do not produce seeds. Instead, they release tiny dust like
single cells called spores from the backs of their leaves. These are carried by the
wind sometimes over large distances up to hundreds of kilometres. If the spore
settles in a suitably damp location, it will germinate producing a tiny heart shaped group
of cells less than a centimetre across, known as a prothallus. This tiny plant has
miniature roots and is able to make its own food by photosynthesis. It also has
reproductive structures producing eggs and sperm. The sperm can swim through a thin
film of water and often arrive at eggs within other prothallii. It is only when the
sperm fertilises the egg that the more familiar fern plant can start to grow. It is
possible however for new fern plants to grow and sprout out of existing fern plants.
In Britain, many ferns are associated with woodlands and roadside verges.
A species called Bracken often grows in large dense patches and sometimes has to be
controlled to conserve heathland areas.
A fox in the countryside at twilight. Foxes
are found throughout Britain in both rural and urban areas. They are small dog
sized, some 65 - 72cm in body length with a 40cm tail. Males are slightly larger and
heavier than females. They have reddish orange fur and a very thick bushy tail
particularly in winter. They are territorial animals with two or more adults and
their young occupying a territory. In rural areas territories can extend up to 40
square kilometres, in urban areas where there is much more food (provided by people),
there is a higher density of foxes and the territories are much smaller, some quarter of a
square kilometre being typical. There is usually ample food to support these urban
foxes in their small territories.
A fox is always on the look-out for food. Foxes
are adaptable carnivores, one of the main reasons why they are able to survive close to
man who persecutes them by hunting shooting and trapping. Foxes eat a huge variety
of foods depending on what is available in their habitat. In coastal areas they will
eat crabs and dead sea birds while in inland rural areas they eat earthworms, beetles,
small mammals and birds, carrion and berries such as blackberries. Urban foxes eat
scraps provided by people as well as raiding bins. Foxes raise their young during
the spring in an underground earth in the countryside and often under garden sheds in
British cities. The 4 or 5 youngsters emerge from cover during early May.
Foxes tend not to live for very long, one or two years being typical.
The body of a fox has rotted away leaving the hard
skull and bones. All animals and plants will eventually die. The soft parts
of their bodies rot away and provide food to a whole host of creatures including beetles,
flies and their larvae, fungi, bacteria and animals such as carrion crows. The
nutrients produced in the decomposition of dead soft tissue is eventually returned to the
ground where plants and animals can make use of them. When large animals such as
foxes die, the only remains after decomposition are the bones which are composed of hard
materials. If you don't know which type of animal a particular bone belongs to, you
can sometimes find clues by looking at the structure of the bone. For instance, the
skull of a fox has eye sockets on the front, indicating it was a predator with stereo
vision, able to judge distances to its prey. Its teeth will include sharp pointed
canines for ripping at flesh.
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All images copyright Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust