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Nature June's Wildlife Spectacles

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Young foxes

Playful, inquisitive and a joy to watch, fox cubs take their first steps into the wider world this month.

Description: May is the month when fox cubs can be seen taking their first steps into the outside world.

May is the month when fox cubs can be seen taking their first steps into the outside world. Gingerly at first, and when with more confidence and brashness as the month progresses, the youngsters break the cover of the earth and can provide high entertainment.

Young foxes are usually born in March and are then suckled four weeks or so, quickly moving on to solid food. At first, the adults bring everything in for them, but by May the cubs can catch a little of their food themselves, making a song and dance of hunting such items as earthworms and beetles, which they imbue with hitherto unrealized powers of mobility, mock-chasing them and pouncing on them as if they were fleet-footed rodents.

Delightfully, the adults don’t just bring in edible items, but a wide range of playthings, too – it really is just as though they make regular visit to they toy shop. Thus they will nick tennis balls, golf balls, chewing toys intended for pet dogs, clothes from washing lines and, as a particular treat, shoes. Nobody knows why human shoes are such an attraction to foxes – perhaps they are deliciously smelly – but if you have a fox litter near your garden, don’t leave shoes (or gloves) out. They will soon be in pieces.

If you watch carefully, you might be able to ascertain what social arrangement your local foxes have. In many cases it won't only be a pair present, but a male with more than one female. If so, several individuals may visit the earth during the night, each with an offering for the cubs.

For now, the youngsters will remain close to the earth, but it won't be long before they embark on short feeding expeditions further afield – certainly by July. At the moment, they look dark and have round faces and short ears; by then they will be reddish and have those unmistakable long ears and snout. The transition from kid to predator is a short one.

Flies

Description: Some species live for two years before their summer swansong.

It’s May, so there must be mayflies about, right? And these are the insects that are famous for living only for one day, correct? Both assumptions are only half right. Firstly, while there are plenty of mayflies around this month, these insects can actually be seen throughout the summer months, so they aren’t restricted to spring. The second statement only refers to the adult stages. It’s true that in some species the adults can live less than a day. However, to sum up their life as so short is wrong, because they live much longer than this underwater as nymphs. Some species live for two years before their summer swansong.

White butterflies

Description: The small white is, naturally, smaller than the large white.

You might not think that ‘cabbage white’ butterflies were a nugget of biodiversity, but in fact we have three common species of whites, all with a distinct character and easily identified. The large white is – surprise – the largest species. It flies with bold, confident wing-beats and has an extensive jet-black tip to its upper wings. The small white is, naturally, smaller than the large white. The markings on the tips of the wings look as though they have been rubbed out, and both sexes have black beauty spots on the upper wings. Meanwhile, the green-veined white is easily recognized despite being the size of small white. It has a distinctive whirring flight and when it lands the underside is unmistakable – green veins on a yellow background.

Grass snakes

Description: ‘Grass’ snake is something of a misnomer for this, our largest snake at up to 190cm long.

‘Grass’ snake is something of a misnomer for this, our largest snake at up to 190cm long. Of course it does hide in grass, but this predator is most often seen swimming in ponds or hunting at the sides of lakes or rivers. At this time of the year; the grass snake is much preoccupied with its favorite prey – frogs, toads and fish. It often swallows frogs and toads feet first, which is quite a ghoulish sight. Anyhow, the better name would probably be ‘water snake’.

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