Nature's April Fools

Cuckoo chick © David Tipling/2020VISION

Amongst our local wildlife are some of the best tricksters around

There are just a few days to go until April Fool’s Day, so if you’re the mischievous type you’re probably busy thinking of creative ways to trick your friends and family.

Amongst our local wildlife are some of the best tricksters around, and while we don’t recommend you take inspiration from these sneaky species (you’d almost certainly end up in court) you may be interested to know some of the ingenious methods they employ to deceive their fellow creatures.

Cuckoos

Cuckoos are migratory birds, arriving in Britain around April and heralding the start of spring with their signature ‘cuck-oo’ call. To us this bird is a welcome harbinger of the new season, but to the birds that share its habitat the cuckoo signals something far more insidious (not that they’d know).

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

Cuckoos will soon be arriving at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Fishlake Meadows nature reserve near Romsey, listen out for them there.

Common lizard 

You're most likely to spot a common lizard basking on a warm spot on heaths and stone walls but predators might have to look twice.

Lots of creatures think a lizard would make a tasty snack - birds of prey, foxes and crows are some of the main threats to lizards in Britain. 

To help defend themselves from attack lizards have develop two strategies. They can move very fast, hopefully getting out of harm's way before they are in too much trouble. But they also have a plan b. If they get caught or when they need to distract predators they shed the bottom half of their tail! This discarded appendage will keep moving, hopefully distracting the predator long enough for the lizard to escape. 

Slow worms are another species that can also lose their tail as a clever distraction technique. 

However, it is an expensive trick - growing back the tail is very costly for the lizard so please do not disturb them if you come across any of our reptiles. 

Look for lizards basking on sunny days at our Hook Common and Bartley Heath Nature Reserve

Solar powered sea slug

These incredible creatures use algae to help it carry out photosynthesis - usually reserved for plants. 

The solar powered sea slug bursts algae cells and ingests their chloroplasts (the cells that carry out photosynthesis in plants and gives them their green colour). The slug then harnesses their power, using the power of the sun to go about its business. The green colour also helps the solar powered sea slug hide away in algae and keep safe from predators.

If you are lucky enough to see one of these sea slugs look for their distinctive 'twinkling' chloroplasts. Depending on the algae they have been eating they can be green (most common), red or brown. 

Bee orchids

The bee orchid is a master of mimicry and has evolved to look like its main pollinator – the longhorn bee. This draws in amorous bees looking to find a mate, and when they land on the flower the pollen is transferred. This is a wonderfully efficient system for the orchid, but the bee is invariably disappointed.

Bizarrely, longhorn bees are rarely found in the UK so the bee orchids here appear to be self-pollinated. The bee orchid is at its best in parched, sunny habitats and can be abundant where the ground has been disturbed. They can also be found on Noar Hill, Farlington Marshes and Blashford Lakes nature reserves.

Peacock butterflies

Peacock butterflies are a striking and unmistakeable species, 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.