April 2019

Drinker moth caterpillar
Sheila Sims

This month you may come across the very distinctive Drinker moth caterpillar, so called because it likes to drink dew drops from grass stems. This caterpillar goes into hibernation in October when partly grown, where it spends the winter, to emerge in April. It will then feed on grasses and reeds until it reaches up to 7cm (over 2½ inches) long. In June it pupates, constructing a papery cocoon to protect the pupa, which changes into the moth in July; the male is orangey-brown and the larger female a paler orangey-yellow. They will only fly for a few weeks during which time the female will lay her eggs, usually on grasses or reeds; you may see these moths at this time because they are attracted to light from windows. After about ten days the eggs hatch and the new caterpillars feed until they go into hibernation in October. If you should come across this giant of the caterpillar world it is wise not to handle it as, like many hairy caterpillars, the hairs are irritant and could cause an itchy rash.

Drinker moth cocoon
Sheila Sims

Female Drinker moth
Sheila Sims

Millipede
Sheila Sims

Another creature which can cause an allergic reaction in some people is the Millipede. When disturbed some types will emit a foul smelling liquid from their skin which can burn or sting. Although the word millipede’ means a thousand feet, in fact they don’t have as many as that, they usually have less than a hundred. These legs are designed to push the animals through the soil and leaf litter where they live. Although they are usually thought of as insects, in fact they are more closely related to shrimps, lobsters and crayfish. The female lays her eggs in an underground nest where the hatchlings will remain until they undergo their first moult. There will be several moults until the Millipede reaches maturity, which can take 2 – 5 years; each time it moults it gains a new body segment. These interesting little creatures are, like everything in the natural world, part of the chain of life. By feeding on vegetation debris they help in the process of recycling and at the same time improve the soil.

Probably a hybrid
Crab apple
Sheila Sims

April is the month when many fruit trees are in bloom, covering our gardens and countryside with welcome blossom. One that we find in rural areas is the Crab apple, except that it probably isn’t. How often have you, when out on a walk, been eating an apple, and what do you do with the core? I’m sure you throw it in the undergrowth or hedgerow. Perfectly acceptable, it is organic and will rot down and our ancestors did the same thing. Like the ones from your apple core may do those past pips, also from cultivated apples, sometimes germinated if conditions were right. They grew into trees which eventually blossomed and were visited by the same insects that went on to pollinate the wild Crab apples. The fruit from these themselves grew into trees, which is why most of what we think are Crab apples are in fact hybrids, crosses between a cultivar and a wild Crab apple. It is thought that, in Britain, truly wild Crab apple trees are now only to be found in some northern regions but the hybrids still provide nectar for insects, fruit for wildlife and give us pleasure with their displays of blossom in the spring and apples in the autumn.

Red hinds with last year’s
young
Sheila Sims

One animal which will like these hybrid apples is the Red deer. The hinds are only a few weeks away from their birthing time which starts in May and will often stretch into June, depending on when they were mated. Except for during the rutting season in the autumn, the stags and hinds live separate lives, the stags in bachelor herds and the hinds in their own groups, ruled by a dominant matriarch, with last years young. As birthing time gets closer, the young stags will leave the hinds and join a bachelor group; last years females usually stay with the hind group.

Periwinkle
Sheila Sims

A plant which is in flower at this time of year is the bright blue, occasionally white, Periwinkle. Originally from southern Europe it now appears all over the world. In Britain it has become naturalised and is often included in wild flower books, so I am going to treat it as wild because I like it! It has trailing stems which root where they touch the ground enabling the plant to spread, which makes it a popular ground covering plant in gardens. In the past this plant had many medicinal uses and is thought to be the original ‘blue’ in the rhyme, ‘Something borrowed, something blue’, when the bride would tuck a bunch of the flowers into her garter.

Activities for this month include:

© Sheila Sims 2019. Email: sheila@norfolknaturediary.uk

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