Oak Processionary Moth
May is the time of year when the caterpillars of this invasive Moth are on the move. The hairs of the caterpillars carry a toxin which can be a threat to human health, causing skin rashes, eye irritation and respiratory problems. In high numbers the caterpillars can also cause defoliation of oak trees.
In late April/ early May pesticide spraying will take place on oaks in busy areas and those where they have been previously heavily infested. This will be followed by careful surveying of the whole park in June and July to locate nests which are then removed by specialist operatives using protective clothing and equipment.
If you come across the caterpillars or their webbed nests please do not touch them and keep children and pets away. Report any sightings to the Park office on 0300 061 2200.
Mimicry in nature is the art of pretending to be something else in order to better aid the survival of a species.
Camouflage is perhaps the most common type of mimicry, simply looking like the habitat that the animal or plant lives in and therefore difficult for predators to see.
The herds of Red and Fallow deer are actually camouflaged when lying in the dried bracken or amongst bleached fallen deadwood in the park. However animals and plants also mimic in other ways.
The harmless wasp beetle is striped black and yellow to fool any potential predators that it can sting you in defence - just like a wasp. The Stinkhorn fungus mimics the smell of decaying animal flesh. Flies follow the smell to the fungi anticipating an opportunity to feed and lay eggs but instead land on the Stinkhorn and disperse the pollen instead. Peacock Butterflies have eye-like markings on their wings to look like larger birds etc. The cuckoo (who lays its eggs in the nests of other birds to raise them) alters their eggs colouration and marking to mimic the appearance of the host bird's eggs.
The Hawthorn is a small, scrubby native tree that is abundant in Richmond Park. Unlike Blackthorn it comes into leaf before the blossoms burst and when in full flower the white petals almost cover the green leaves underneath.
With global warming it often flowers in late
April, but it is such a powerful sight in May that the Hawthorn is also known simply as 'May'. There are many cultural references and sayings relating to May blossoms such as "April showers bring forth May flowers". Shakespeare's sonnet 18 is the origin of the book and TV series "The Darling Buds
of May" - an expression used for that which is fresh and new:-
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Another proverb 'Ne'er cast a clout till May be out' means don't stop wearing your winter vest until the Hawthorn blossoms appear - which ties in well with gardening advice to not plant frost tender plants until mid May.