Woodland Picture Gallery 1 2

Dogs Stinkhorn, Dormouse, Fern, Fox, Fox Skull & Bones

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Dogs Stinkhorn Dormouse Fern

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.

More on Dormice

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.




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Fox Fox Fox Skull & Bones

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