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Path through scrub at Dean Plantation

There are all sorts of creatures living in the forest, and not all of them are easy to spot. You have to keep a sharp eye out when having a look through the undergrowth, or you might miss something! What's more, even the less beautiful forest creatures can tell us unique and fascinating things about our climate, our forests, and their biodiversity.

Last week, our colleague Colin Edwards, Biodiversity Policy Adviser at our sister organisation Scottish Forestry, made a fascinating discovery at Dean Plantation in Fife.

At first glance

"Sometimes it pays to look twice, even if the first glance suggests that what you are seeing is nothing but a bird dropping," Colin writes.

"Walking through Dean Plantation in Fife on Sunday last week, I passed a small hawthorn on the edge of a recent clearfell, and something caught my eye on a lower leaf. Closer inspection revealed a caterpillar, one that looks unmistakably like a bird dropping. This is clever mimicry, designed to help the caterpillar avoid predators.

"Interesting though that is, this it is not the end of the story. The caterpillar I saw turned out to be an early stage larva of the adult known as the Alder Moth (Acronicta alni). These moths have only just started to appear in Scotland: I caught one in June of last year in our back garden, which was the first record of this moth in Fife."

A thriving population

"Encountering an early stage larva deep in Dean Plantation, close to a recent active operational site, tells me they are breeding somewhere here in this woodland, and that the woods are in great shape.

It’s not always the best-known birds or mammals that we need to be aware of when thinking about conservation. Species are moving northwards because of a changing climate, so it’s very likely we’ll be seeing more of these new and unusual species in the future."

- Colin Edwards, Biodiversity Policy Adviser, Scottish Forestry


Find out more

Have you seen a rare moth or butterfly on your travels? You can report sightings to Butterfly Conservation Scotland, who have some great resources for identifying different species.