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About Me

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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

26 August, 2016

Cucullia verbasci: the mullein moth

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The mullein moth (Cucullia verbasci) is more often seen as a caterpillar than an adult flying moth. It can found on the leaves of verbascum plants, especially great mullein, and less frequently on common and water figwort.  It is quite common to see large hole in mullein leaves and when you take a closer look you find these attractively marked caterpillars. 
Anywhere these plants thrive then so do the mullein moth larvae. The verbascum family of flowers tend to grow in waste places and scrubby areas, often where there is open ground and little competition from more aggressive species. Great mullein is not that common in Dorset so, not surprisingly then, this moth is not that common here either.
The adult flies in April and May but I have never seen it as it is that it is one of the few species that does not seem to be attracted to light and therefore a moth trap is of little interest to them. The caterpillars emerge in late June and may be found until mid-August at which point they pupate and over winter in this state ready to emerge in the spring. However, they can stay a pupa for up to four years before emerging which is quite remarkable.
Cucullia verbasci: the mullein moth

25 August, 2016

Dropwort: a rose by any other name

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Whilst this could appear to be a close up picture of meadowsweet it is actually a totally different species; dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris). As dropwort and meadowsweet look so alike this is a case of using other criteria to make an identification. Whilst meadowsweet is a plant of wet (or at least damp) ground dropwort thrives on dry chalk grassland. They are such similar plants but they have totally different requirements in terms of habitat.  If you want to be totally sure which of the two species you have found then look at the leaves, they are very different. Meadowsweet has bold rose-like leaves whereas those of dropwort are much more akin to ferns.
Surprisingly, perhaps, It is a member of the rose family. It is locally common but not widespread in Dorset and is always a nice find in June through to August.
 
Wikipedia tells us that dropwort flowers have been used in Austrian herbal medicine as a cure for rheumatism, gout, infections and fever. It also tells us that the name dropwort comes from the tubers that hang like drops from the root.
Dropwort: a rose by any other name

24 August, 2016

Ploughmans spikenard: blister creme?

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Ploughman's spikenard (Inula conyzae) is plant of the downlands that is easily overlooked, not because it is small, because it isn't, but because it looks a bit like a ragwort that has gone over. It grows on calcareous soils on wasteland, grassland and scrub and so will be found on the Purbeck Ridge and along the cliffs where the earth is, perhaps, a bit bare. 
It has a strange name and I have no idea where it comes from, there is very little information elsewhere on the web about this flower. It is a bit prickly, or spiky, and it is out in the late summer and early autumn when traditionally the fields would have been ploughed after the harvest so perhaps ploughman's spikenard is something to do with the spiky plant that ploughmen tread on? It seems nard was an ointment made from a Himalayan flower so was probably quite exclusive and expensive. Maybe a cheap form of nard was made from this plant and ploughmen used it treat blisters on their hands? Any further ideas are welcome!
 
It is a member of the daisy family and the nondescript flower heads turn into clusters of seeds heads, much like groundsel.
Ploughmans spikenard: blister creme?

23 August, 2016

Gipsywort: a G and T



Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus) is a member of the labiate family of plants which also include mints and deadnettles. The square stem, pointed nettle shaped leaves and small tubular flowers in whorls are so typical of this family.
Gipsywort loves damp ground and is usually found on stream banks, in drainage ditches and wet 'fen' areas from June through to September and is common in areas of Wareham Common.
It is another plant with folklore connections. Supposedly a remedy for just about every ailment that can beset us! It is also used as a die and the name comes from the belief that Romany people died their skin with it although that story remains totally unsubstantiated as far as I can ascertain. More likely it was used to die clothes. Apparently it smells like gin and tonic when crushed! 
Gipsywort: a G and T

22 August, 2016

Ptychoptera contaminata: a fungus gnat



We tend to think of gnats as being tiny, biting insects but actually, the family they belong to includes much larger, non-biting species such as crane flies and fungus gnats. This fungus gnat (Ptychoptera contaminata) is probably the most common of the fifty or so species of fungus gnat found in Britain.
One of seven fold winged fungus gnat species this one seems to have been injured as one of its wings is folded back along its body whist the other is sticking out to the side. The pattern of black dots on the wings is the best way to tell species apart.
They are called fungus gnats because their larvae, as opposed to the adults which are found in waterside vegetation, are found on fungi where some species feed on the fruiting body and spores whereas other species feed on other tiny insects that visit the fungus to eat.
Ptychoptera contaminata: a fungus gnat