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10 weird and wacky woodland wildlife wonders

From fruity slugs and spiders to a curry and Mr Whippy ice creams – welcome to the little-known wonders of UK woodland! Lots of us love to visit our woods for a relaxing walk and we’re used to seeing common critters like blackbirds, bumblebees or perhaps a badger. But take a closer look and you might find some remarkable stories being played out from the leaf litter to the treetops.

1. Curry milkcap (Lactarius camphoratus)

This small brownish-red mushroom looks rather unremarkable. But as it begins to dry, it delivers an amazingly rich smell of curry powder. The name milkcap refers to the milky latex that releases from the gills under the mushroom cap when they are cut or torn. Milkcaps are a group of mycorrhizal fungi which form symbiotic associations with trees, helping in the exchange of nutrients and water.

Curry milkcap is named after the strong smell it produces (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
Curry milkcap is named after the strong smell it produces (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

2. Lemon slug (Malacolimax tenellus)

This ancient woodland slug named for its bright yellow appearance. It snuggles down into the woodland floor and then head outs in the evening for some fine dining in late summer and autumn. Its favourite food is big mushrooms like penny buns or porcini. For the rest of the year it’s thought to live underground.

The lemon slug loves to dine on mushrooms (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
The lemon slug loves to dine on mushrooms (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

3. Mr Whippy spider (Paidiscura pallens)

Tiny and yellow, this spider lays its egg sac on the underside of oak leaves. It really does look like a miniature whipped ice cream!

The tiny egg sacs of the Mr Whippy spider look just like little ice creams! (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
The tiny egg sacs of the Mr Whippy spider look just like little ice creams! (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

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4. Campion anther smut fungus (Microbotryum lycnhidis-dioicae)

A sneaky little fungus, this species produces spores on the anthers of red campion flowers. Pollinators visiting for a tasty meal of pollen then end up transporting the spores everywhere. This spore-spreading also changes the gender of the campion plants so that they are all male.

Spores produced by the campion anther smut fungus are spread by visiting pollinators (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
Spores produced by the campion anther smut fungus are spread by visiting pollinators (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

5. Tree lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria)

The name lungwort was given to this lichen long ago, when it was thought to have medicinal properties for respiratory ailments. More recently, it has been found to contain compounds which break down the prion proteins of currently incurable diseases like BSE, CJD and scrapie. Only a few lichens have been given common names, but those that have are some of the best, like the string-of-sausages lichen (Usnea articulata)!

Tree lungwort was once believed to have medicinal properties (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
Tree lungwort was once believed to have medicinal properties (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

6. Log-jam hoverfly (Chalcosyrphus eunotus)

This spring hoverfly sits on sunlit log-jams in woodland streams, where their larvae munch through the soft wet wood. No one really knows what the adults eat, as they have never been observed eating nectar or pollen from flowers. They may go up into the trees for the sweet sticky honeydew provided by aphids, or tree flowers. Log-jams in woodland streams are an important habitat for many other invertebrates. They can also form natural flood management by holding back water.

Log-jam hoverfly larvae munch on soft wet wood in woodland streams (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
Log-jam hoverfly larvae munch on soft wet wood in woodland streams (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

7. Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi)

The wasp spider is a great mimic. Looking just like a common wasp keeps it safe from predators, even though it isn’t dangerous at all. It can be found in southern England but is spreading north.

The wasp spider is cleverly disguised to ward off predators (Photo: WTML)
The wasp spider is cleverly disguised to ward off predators (Photo: WTML)

8. Yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis)

Closely related to the wood mouse, the yellow-necked mouse was only recognised as a separate species in 1834. As the name suggests, it has a band of yellow fur on the neck, but otherwise looks similar to the wood mouse. Yellow-necked mice are also larger, at around 1.5 times the weight of their relative. This mouse is particularly common in ancient woodland.

Yellow-necked mice are more common in ancient woodland (Photo: Anne-Marie Kalus/Flickr)
Yellow-necked mice are more common in ancient woodland (Photo: Anne-Marie Kalus/Flickr)

9. Slime mould

Slime moulds are among the world’s strangest organisms. Long mistaken for fungi, they are now classed as a type of amoeba. As single-celled organisms, they have neither neurons nor brains. Yet for about a decade, scientists have debated whether slime moulds have the capacity to learn about their environments and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There are great videos on the internet of slime moulds completing mazes!

Slime mould has fascinated scientists for years (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)
Slime mould has fascinated scientists for years (Photo: Alastair Hotchkiss)

10. Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

The hawfinch is the UK's largest finch, with an enormous bill powerful enough to crush a cherry stone. Despite their size, they are an elusive bird and tricky to spot, especially during the summer nesting season.

The hawfinch is the UK's largest finch, but one of the hardest to spot (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)
The hawfinch is the UK's largest finch, but one of the hardest to spot (Photo: John Bridges/WTML)

Woodland habitat is essential to the survival of many species, from little-known minibeasts to our favourite furry creatures. Help us protect woods and trees for wildlife by becoming a Woodland Trust member. You can support our work for as little as 13p a day, and you'll receive an exciting welcome gift and our exclusive quarterly members' magazine too. Check out our membership options.

Which weird and wacky wildlife can you spot?

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