Nature's April Fools

© David Tipling/2020VISION

This April Fools' Day, we take a closer look at some of our sneakiest local species...

Among our local wildlife are some of the best tricksters around. These sneaky species employ ingenious methods to fool their predators and prey, from disguising themselves as other animals to replacing them entirely! 

Fly orchids

Fly orchids are one of our most fascinating and deceptive species. Their slender stems are punctuated by small, dark flowers that resemble clustering flies, with each flower sporting two glistening ‘eyes’ that add to the illusion.

This plant does not produce nectar, but instead secretes a scent that mimics the sexual pheromones of a female wasp. This, combined with the shape and texture of the flowers, proves irresistible to male digger wasps: they attempt to mate with the flowers and inadvertently pollinate the plant. Fly orchids tend to flower from late April to June.

Cuckoos

Cuckoos are migratory birds, arriving in Britain around April and signalling the start of spring with their signature call. To us this bird is a welcome herald of the new season but, to the birds that share its habitat, the cuckoo is an insidious intruder.

Adult cuckoos are ‘brood parasites’, which means that they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests to fool them into raising their young. Once the cuckoo chick hatches it pushes the other eggs out of the nest, so the poor, hood-winked mother bird has only her oversized impostor to feed. Dunnocks, meadow pipits and reed warblers are common victims of this 'cuckolding' behaviour.

Peacock butterflies

Peacock butterflies are striking and unmistakable, easily identifiable by the blue and yellow markings on their wings. To potential predators these markings look like two large eyes, making the butterfly appear far more threatening than it really is.

Conversely, when its wings are closed, the peacock butterfly takes on the appearance of a dead leaf – a protective and highly effective camouflage. Peacock butterflies are widespread across the UK and at their most abundant in the summer months.