All posts tagged spotted


Spotted in Dane Valley Woods: Snake’s head fritillary

Snake's Head Fritillary

Snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is a British flower which has become nationally scarce. The snake’s head fritillary is commonly found on meadows, explaining its population reduction due to habitat conversion of wildflower meadows into arable land or grassland for grazing. During our 10th year anniversary in 2013, Dane Valley Woods planted these bulbs and other native wildflowers in the hope to increase the diversity of flora within the woodlands and within a few months, they had flowered. We are hoping to see many popping up this year!

Snake’s head fritillaries are easily identifiable in spring by their bell shaped, drooping flowers and chequered patterns, often in purple, pink and occasionally white. Its scientific name Fritillaria comes from the Latin word for ‘dice box’, referencing the chequered patterns which make the flower so unique with meleagris translating to ‘spotted like a guinea fowl’. In folklore it is said that the flowers droop because they witnessed Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and hung their heads in sorrow.

The flowers of the snake’s head fritillaries are pollinated by insects, particularly bees, however, the flowers are hermaphrodites so the plant can self-fertilise to produce a clone of itself.

Did you know? Work at Kew has uncovered that Fritillaria meleagris has 15 time mores DNA than humans have and if its genomes were unravelled it would stretch 30 metres.

Spotted at Dane Valley Woods: Common lizard

Common lizard

The United Kingdom is home to six types of reptile, and one of these scaly friends is found abundantly in Dane Valley Woods. The common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is found across most of the country and Dane Valley Woods is ideal habitat for it to thrive.

The common lizard has a great variation in colour but tends to be brownish with spotted and striped patterns, although different colour morphs exist, such as the rare plain morph which has been spotted in the Woods! Common lizards may also be melanistic, which means completely black (but melanistic adults are not to be confused with new-born common lizards which are also totally black).Rare plain morph common lizard

Common lizards are sexually dimorphic meaning males and females look different. A male lizard tends to be ‘spotty’ whilst a female tends to be more ‘stripey’. The sex can be more easily distinguished by their bellies as males have bright orange or yellow bellies covered with black spots, whereas females have plain grey or yellowish bellies with no spots.

Common lizards are also known as viviparous lizards, which means they give birth to live young, unlike many other species of reptile which lay eggs. However, interestingly, populations in warmer climates actually lay eggs and these populations tend not to interbreed successfully with live young laying lizards. A female may give birth from 3 to 11 offspring which are born black with no markings.

The juvenile lizards as well as adult lizards are important prey species, as you may have read in our Kestrel blog, however, they are not easy prey to catch. Reptiles are ‘cold blooded’ so use the sun to warm themselves up and become active, so on hot days common lizards are extremely fast and nimble and catching a sight of them becomes difficult. Common lizards are also competent swimmers and may use this as a means of escaping. However, in extreme cases, a lizard may also shed its tail to escape. The tail remains wriggling to distract the predator, giving the lizard a chance to get to safety.

Whilst this species is widespread, studies have suggested a decline in its numbers and it has recently been added to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, it is also protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

To read up about this species and other reptiles, visit Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group.

Tiny juvenile common lizard


Spotted in Dane Valley Woods: Kestrel


Kestrels (Falco tinniculus) are familiar British falcons, due to their ability to adapt to changing environments and their distinctive flight patterns.

Their sex can be distinguished from their plumage; males tend to have blueish grey hoods and rumps, whereas females are more chestnut brown, however, both have a dark band across their cheeks and speckled brown over their bodies.

Kestrels are notorious for their graceful hunting, hovering motionless in mid-air whilst keeping their heads perfectly still as they search for prey. This has lead to them also being known as wind-hoverers. These falcons fly extremely slowly, spreading their feathers to allow a constant flow of air over their wings as they face into oncoming winds, which generates enough lift for them to hover. To watch the kestrel’s flight and see its extraordinary ability to lock its head perfectly when it hunts watch this clip by Attenborough:

Kestrels usually feed on small mammals (and perhaps in Dane Valley Woods’ case, small lizards, which is rare, but does still occur in Northern latitudes when feeding nestlings) and particularly invertibrates in the Winter. They usually raise 2-3 chicks, although lay 3-6 eggs and they can live for around 16 years. Although they are classified under least concern under IUCN conservation status guidelines, the RSPB lists them as amber species, meaning a moderate decline has occurred in the past, which they attribute to changes in farmings methods since the 1970s.

Spotted in Dane Valley Woods: Field vole

Field vole

The field vole (Microtus agrestis) is one of the three species of vole found across the United Kingdom. It is the most common species of the three and it plays a vital link in the food chain.

Field voles can be difficult to distinguish from the bank vole as they are very similar in appearance but field voles tend to have darker and longer fur, smaller ears and shorter tails. Voles can be more easily distinguished from mice by their less prominent eyes and ears as well as having blunter noses. Field voles can be very aggressive creatures and the males can be heard squeaking as they fight over their territories.

The field vole is predated on by several species such as kestrels, barn owls, foxes, stoats and snakes. It is thought that between 40-80% of a barn owl’s diet is made up of field voles showing their importance in the ecosystem.

As a vole travels, it marks its runways with urine to warn off other voles, however these urine tracks can radiate ultraviolet light which can be detected by birds of prey, therefore leaving a trial for the birds to trace.

As a rodent, field voles have high reproductive rates; females may have up to 7 litters of between 4 to 6 young a year. Rarely, field voles can reach plague proportions with up to 500 individuals per acre. Despite this, it is thought that the field voles numbers are decreasing and although they are common across the country, their roles in the food chain makes them important species to protect.