The Love Life of Badgers

After months of watching this pair of badgers contentedly go about their normal routines of life, the last couple of nights have been very different.

On the first night, the male badger was posturing around the entrance making a wickering noise. We are only taking videos on this camera and so these are screen grabs from videos and the quality is not great but here he is making this constant noise:

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At one point, the female dashed out of the sett and grabbed him by the tail and pulled him down the hole until he managed to break free and get out again. It was all a bit surprisingly violent.

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Grabbing the male badger by the tail and pulling

This all went on for quite a while.

And last night again there was more of the same, the male whickering at the entrance. But then he reached in and tried to pull the female out by her neck until she loudly complained. However, this tactic seems to have been successful because she then emerged from the tunnel and they mated

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This went on for one and a half hours and maybe more because at that point the camera ran out of batteries.

So this was all a bit of a surprise for us because we have read that baby badgers are born in late January and emerge around April time and so last nights activities were confusing given this time scale. On further reading, however, it seems that female badgers often come into season immediately after a litter of cubs are born and most badger mating takes place in February. There is then delayed implantation and the egg is not actually fertilised until the beginning of December, followed by a 6 or 7 week pregnancy.

There is much written about badger breeding because it is confusing, but the long and the short of it for our purposes is that these last couple of nights could be telling us that cubs have now been born underground. Litter size is generally one to four cubs, normally two or three and we are really looking forward to seeing them when they are old enough to peek their noses out.

Homes for Stag Beetles

Stag Beetles. I remember them being all over the place in the summers of my childhood in the 60s but now I haven’t seen one for years. They are in a lot of trouble.

They spend several years as grubs in rotting wood and these grubs are large – up to 11cm. Slightly horrifying.

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They then become an adult beetles which clamber their way up through the soil to the surface.

The adults live for a short time then mate and die, the female laying eggs first. The male has large mandibles that look like deers antlers and that he uses for courtship displays and wrestling with other males. They are unmistakable:

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Male and female Stag Beetles

One of my favourite charities, The People’s Trust for Endangered Species, is fighting to save the Stag Beetles from extinction in the UK and suggests that a good project for our gardens would be to build a Stag Beetle wood stack:

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The logs are dug one or two feet down into the ground to keep them moist and, over time, will start to rot at the bottom and provide a good place for all sorts of insects grubs including Stag Beetles hopefully. It doesn’t need to be this large, in smaller gardens this stack could actually be just a single log dug into the ground.

We want to do this in the meadows and today a tree surgeon that we have used in the past brought us round some lengths of Sycamore (the wood needs to be from a broad leaved deciduous tree).

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As you can see, its very foggy and wintery out there today and has been for several days. Here is the new pond for example:

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Walking on water

So we decided not to start digging these logs into the rock solid soil today but leave this project for another more favourable time.

On this freezing January day, it is hard to imagine Stag beetles flying on a warm June dusk but maybe this is what we will have here in a few years if we can provide them with some lovely rotting wood as a result of this project.

 

 

 

A Loveliness of Ladybirds

A Loveliness of Ladybirds is a fantastic collective noun and today I found one such Loveliness behind some dead foliage that I was clearing.

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Having photographed them and covered them back up again, I have got my insect books out and tried to identify what sort of ladybird they are.

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And I was a bit confused by how many different types of ladybirds there are and how much variation there is within each species. There is a 2 Spot Ladybird, a 7 Spot, a 10 Spot, a 14 Spot, a 22 Spot and a 24 Spot and, for example, it seems perfectly acceptable for the 2 Spot Ladybird to have up to 6 spots and the 10 Spot Ladybird to have as few as 6.

As well as that there is an Orange Ladybird, a Cream Spot, an Eyed Ladybird and many, many others. In fact Britain has 46 species of ladybird.

But, as I delved further, it became obvious that what I have here are Harlequin Ladybirds. These ladybirds were introduced into mainland Europe from Japan to tackle aphid pests and have spread at an alarming rate. They first arrived in the UK in 2004, maybe accidentally, maybe blown by strong winds. And whereas the Grey Squirrel took 100 years to spread across the country, the Harlequin Ladybird has taken 10, becoming Britain’s fastest ever invading species. It has 100 different colour and spot number and size combinations making it extremely variable and a bit difficult to identify but I’m fairly sure that this is what I have here.

They are voracious feeders and, once they have eaten all the aphids, they then move on to ladybird eggs and larvae and the eggs and caterpillars of moths and butterflies. They out- compete our native ladybirds for food and are generally extremely bad news.

So far from a Loveliness of Ladybirds, this is something very different. Maybe a new collective noun – a Horribleness of Harlequins

Now I am more aware of what is going on in the Ladybird world, I am going to be searching for some nice native ladybirds around here once they all wake up in the Spring.