December wildlife – Stoats, darting hares and how to build a hoverfly lagoon

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When mentioning wildlife, we tend to focus on the more obvious or frequently seen creatures like birds or mammals. Little mention is made of the less conspicuous life forms like the rat-tailed maggot for example. Its name alone may trigger an element of revulsion in some, but this little creature is far from a pest. It is in fact an alternative name for a hoverfly larva. The rat-tailed maggot thrives in rot holes or ponds; essentially puddles of decaying vegetation. Filtering bacteria and other microbes out of the nutrient rich soup, it serves an important role in the decomposition process. The larva might take many months to grow, particularly during colder times of the year. Once plump and satiated, it crawls out of its Shrek swamp to a more suitable drier area to pupate. Then, in its final metamorphosis, a fully grown hoverfly emerges ready to grace our gardens and countryside.

With vegetation dying back, it is easier to spot hares darting across the fields, black tips on the end of their long ears, or, if you’re fortunate, the occasional stoat. These small mammals are members of the mustelid family and are related to weasels, badgers, and pine martens. They have chestnut brown backs, heads and tails and sport a yellowy cream pattern under their chins and on their chest. Every stoat bears a different pattern, rather like humans with their fingerprints. Like most of their mustelid counterparts, to ensure their young have the best chance of survival, these amazing little creatures have delayed implantation. They mate in the summer, but the fertilised egg doesn’t embed in the womb until spring the following year; nature’s way of ensuring that mum conserves her energy during the winter and gets an early start in the spring when food is more plentiful.

Do: Your best to have unfrozen water accessible for wildlife. It doesn’t matter how small your water source is, it can really boost the ecosystem and, in winter months, provides a lifeline for birds. Create a hoverfly lagoon from an old milk carton. Fill it with leaves and other organic material, and this will create a wonderful breeding ground ready for pollinators in the warmer months.

Get involved: Hoverfly lagoons

Author: Terry Smithson BSc in Zoology, MSc in Ecology

Terry is our in-house ecologist. He’s worked in the nature conservation sector for over 25 years and loves all things wildlife, especially hoverflies, beetles, mammals and birds. He’s helped design our BioScapes products so they maximise the recovery of wildlife and he’s happy to offer advice to individuals, schools and businesses on how to boost biodiversity.

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