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Waterbears, hoverflies and ghostslugs - oh my! Woodland Trust's top 10 hidden treasures

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Weird and wonderful creatures to look out for during nature walks

Water Bear
Water Bear

WITH the country in the grips of a crisis, the Woodland Trust has compiled a top ten list of wacky but wonderful wildlife to show that nature continues in all its beauty.

Principal conservation advisor at the Woodland Trust Christine Reid said: “These may be difficult times for everyone but the beauty of nature continues to spring up surprises.

"Over the last few weeks it has not been possible for people to travel and visit our woods, but rest assured that we are continuing to protect our woodlands so that there are little gems to be discovered once the world opens up again.”

So, when you're taking your exercise in Snelsmore Common, Greenham Common, Bowdown Woods, Great Pen Wood or any other woodlands, here's what you need to look out for:

Water bears - tardigrades (Phylum tardigrada) – Perhaps little known but remarkable, microscopic creatures with long plumped up bodies and scrunched up heads. These eight-legged critters are among the most resilient animals known, surviving extreme conditions - even exposure to outer space! They are prevalent in woodland mosses and lichens and feed on the fluids of plant and animal cells/bacteria.

Batman hoverfly (Myathropa florea) – A real super hero of our woods! This creature has a distinctive batman symbol on its thorax. More commonly known as dead head hoverfly, it breeds in rot holes in trees or other hollows with wet rotting vegetable matter. Spot it between May and October.

Cobweb beetles (Ctesias serra) – The larvae of this beetle lives under flaky bark and on old trees where it pinches the dried up leftovers from spider webs.

Rustwort (Nowelia curvifolia) – Like a piece of modern art, this liverwort covers fallen logs in humid woods, turning them an abstract pattern or reds, oranges and green.

Hazel glue (Hymenochaete corrugate) - This is a super sticky fungus which sticks dead pieces of wood onto hazel stems. Why? It’s quite a clever way to avoid competition with soil fungi and also other wood rotting species that function in the damper conditions at ground level!

Ghost slugs (Selenochlamys ysbryda) - These are a distinctive ghostly white and are thought to be blind. They were originally native to the Ukraine but have crept into the British countryside and woodlands. They are a bit pesky - burrowing to depths of a metre to pursue earthworms with their rows of tiny, rasp like teeth.

Ruby tailed wasp (Chrysis ignita) – Seen up close the ruby tailed wasp is perhaps one of the UK’s most beautiful insects. Its head is a shiny blue green colour and the abdomen is a deep ruby red.

Strawberry spiders (Aaneus alsine) – A rare and remarkable spider that looks like fruit - so named of course because of its red-orange body, flecked with yellow dots.

Leaf hoppers (Cicadellidae) - These are minute insects who pack a big punch by sap sucking from plants by piercing the leaves. They are bright green, often with red stripes.

The ancient tree ant (Lasius brunneus) – Lives deep in the crevices of mostly ancient oaks. It’s a rare species that thrives off foraging in trees or rotting wood.

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has more than 500,000 supporters and wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims -

  • to protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  • restore damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  • to plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has more than 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.

More on the Woodland Trust: woodlandtrust.org.uk

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