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Sundew Plant

From bloodthirsty vegetation to sneezing songbirds, Devon is home to some surprisingly unusual plants and animals. We bring you our favourites from amongst the phenomenal flora and fauna of the county.

A supernatural sound in the twilight – the cry of the Nightjar

via Flickr – CC 2.0

Thanks to its excellent camouflage, you’ll be hard-pressed to spot the elusive nightjar just in passing.  These rare birds nest on the ground in heathland and their dappled colouring combined with their ability to flatten their bodies make them almost impossible to notice.

The best chance to see one is at dusk in spring, when males can occasionally be seen displaying to females. However, though you may not see a Nightjar, there’s a good chance you’ll hear one: the nocturnal ‘churring’  of the males whilst they clap their wings in an effort to attract a mate is a strange and otherworldly sound that’s difficult to miss. You can listen to a recording of this unique song on the RSPB website.

An odd belief from antiquity is that the ethereal Nightjar would silently swoop in and suckle on the milk of sleeping goats, giving rise to the Latin term Caprimulgus, which quite literally translates as “goat sucker”.

Dinner is served – the carnivorous Sundew plant

Sundew Plant

via Flickr – CC 2.0

You’ll find this alien-looking plant amid the mosses of Dartmoor’s bogs and mires. With nutrients being low in the soil of this particular environment, sundew had to take matters into its own hands with a more tooth and claw approach to existence. The dewy droplets of nectar that form on its leaf-tendrils might look pretty, but they have a deadly purpose… When insects land to feast on the nectar, they become stuck fast to it. The leaf then folds over to engulf its unwitting prey, digesting it slowly and absorbing the much-needed nutrients.

Another, less forgiving nickname for this pernicious lant is Red Rot – for obvious reasons!

Some folk traditions tell that a piece of sundew carried on your person will act as a potent love charm, helping you ensnare the romantic affections of another as the sundew does its victims.

Sting in the tale – the story of the European Yellow Tailed Scorpion

image via Shutterstock

Though it’s hard to believe, Britain has its very own scorpion population. It’s thought they these adventurous arachnids were accidental stowaways on ships carrying Italian stonework during the 19th century and have been content with their own little colony in the Southern Coast ever since, which includes along the shores of North Devon.

These exotic creatures may look ferocious, but they actually shy away from humans, preferring to nestle into the warm crevices of bricks and walls. If you do accidentally cross paths with one of their stingers, don’t worry: normally, you’ll have no more reaction than you would to a mild bee sting!

Scrambled egg and string of sausages  – lichen that looks good enough to eat

image 1 via Flickr – image 2 via Wikimedia Commons – CC2.0

These odd-looking lichens certainly live up to their names. The thick green strands of the String-of-Sausages lichen (usnea articulate) and the yellowy crust of the increasingly rare Scrambled Egg lichen (fulgensia fulgens) grow especially well in South West England, with fine specimens to be found in the dunes of Devon’s Braunton Burrows.

Unbelievable beaver – the mysterious return of an extinct native

©Mike Symes

It’s all a bit of a miracle really. Beavers were hunted to extinction in Britain centuries ago, so it came as quite a surprise when a family of these wood-gnawing creatures was spotted on the banks of the River Otter in Devon. To this day, no one knows how they got there.

Since then, however, the family has expanded to more than a dozen and the Devon Wildlife Trust has introduced two further beavers to help widen the gene pool.

As part of an exciting five-year plan, the DWT hopes to investigate the impact the lovable rodents have on the landscape, in the hopes of conserving and supporting the new population.

Initial studies suggest that these remarkable creatures actually have a very beneficial effect on neighbouring wildlife, creating a surge in frog populations and a rise in insect life, the latter of which also directly supports local bat numbers.

Things are finally looking up for beavers in Britain thanks to this Devon colony. Watch this space!

 A sneeze that gives the game away – the clever disguise of the Marsh Tit

via Flickr – CC 2.0

Despite its name, this is small, pretty bird is more usually spotted in woodlands and gardens, and large numbers are to be found in Devon.

The Marsh Tit is so similar in appearance to its close relative the Willow Tit that ornithologists weren’t even aware it existed until 1897. Its colourings are almost identical to its cousin’s, but the best way to identify it is by its distinctive call.; the ‘pitchoo’ sound it makes is wonderfully reminiscent of a high-pitched birdy sneeze!

Cuckoo wrasse – gender is a fluid thing for this flashy fish

via Shutterstock

These famously inquisitive fish are a common sight in the mild waters off the Plymouth coast, often seen happily investigating divers and peering into their goggles.

Females are a soft gold colour, but males feature distinguishing blue, orange and yellow stripes that make them especially eye-catching. Remarkably, every cuckoo wrasse is born female, but, after several years, can change its sex to male at will. An impressive natural feat to say the least!

Discover all the natural wonders of this beautiful county for yourself, with a stay at one of our cottages in Devon.

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