Nature Notes - Spooky times

THE youngest was asking questions about Halloween animals ready for her party so she could scare her friends that were coming.

Someone had told her that cat’s eyes glow green in the dark ‘cause they are ‘evil’!!! Well not being a cat lover I can see a certain truth in this but cats and other animals eyes glow or eye shine because of (gets somewhat technical here) chatoyancy.

It occurs when light is reflected across the tampetum lucidum layer of the retina, and the colour you see varies from animal to animal. Rabbits and owls glow red, - spiders and cats, green or yellow, - deer, rodents, and moths, orange, - horses, white, - dogs and foxes, blue or green.

Halloween is the end of the Celtic year. It is celebrated from sundown on October 31st until sundown on November 1st. The Celts called this day Samhain which translates as ‘summers end’.

On October 31 they believed that Samhain, the sun god, called together all the dead people who took the form of animals, the most evil people would be cats – again as the animal that has the most impact on garden birds (they kill millions every year) - I can see that!

Right, what about vampire bats Dad – will they suck our blood? Do they swoop down out of the darkness to bite your neck? Can they get tangled in your hair!

They don’t suck blood. Once they bite an animal, they lap up the blood with their tiny special shaped tongues, their saliva producing a blood-thinning agent.

Little comfort? Well, vampire bats are native to South America, so you’d have a hard time finding one here to get worried about.

Even if you lived in an area populated by them, they would much rather go after more sedate victims, such as cows. And the they’ll get tangled in your hair thing? Purely make believe.

The UK is home to many species of bats, and all of them are good for us! A single bat, for example, can eat over 10,000 insects in one night. How’s that for pest control?

It’s that time of year again when; if the weather conditions are right we will get a blaze of colour in our woodlands.

Trees that drop their leaves each autumn are called ‘deciduous’, from the Latin for ‘to fall’. As the nights get longer, trees make preparations to lose their leaves, starting with the secretion of chemicals to cut the leaf off from the rest of the tree.

As the leaves stop producing chlorophyll, they start to change colour. Ultimately, trees lose their leaves once the chemicals they secrete have effectively cut the leaves off from the parent branch.

These chemicals, primarily ethylene and abscisic acid, make trees lose their leaves by cutting off the link between the leaf and the tree.

The leaves fall of the ground providing a layer of protective mulch to insulate their roots, and the tree conserves its energy for the next year and a new growing season.

So all we need is a few weeks of lovely dry crisp cold weather and we’ll be in for a treat!