Join Rebecca as she explores the intrigue and mysteries behind autumn nature.
We’re heading into those dark and mysterious months. Temperatures are falling, as are most of the leaves. Many mammals are preparing for hibernation and there are plenty of new birds arriving from the north to spend the winter. Read on to discover some intriguing things about our autumn wildlife.
One of everyone’s favourite sights in autumn is the changing colour of the leaves, when greens turn to fiery reds, oranges and yellows. But how does this happen exactly? These warm autumn colours are actually hidden in the leaves all year round, but it isn’t until temperatures start to fall that they’re revealed. The main pigment in leaves is chlorophyll, which gives them their green colour. Chlorophyll is used in photosynthesis, using light to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. When sunlight fades in autumn and photosynthesis slows, chlorophyll breaks down in the leaves. This reveals other pigments that are there in smaller amounts: the orange carotenoids and yellow xanthophylls that we all love to see.
As beautiful as the falling leaves are, there’s another autumn phenomenon occurring underneath the leafy carpet that’s just as intriguing. With around 15,000 species of fungi in the UK, it’s not difficult to spot mushrooms, brackets and other weird and whacky growths popping up in woodlands and on road verges. Perhaps the most easily recognised in the UK is fly agaric: the classic fairy toadstool with a scarlet cap and white spots. But the bodies above ground are only the start – most of the fungus is underground in connecting threads called hyphae. These threads create networks that not only link fungi together but also connect with nearby trees in a symbiotic relationship, where both organisms benefit from the other. While trees provide fungi with glucose from photosynthesis, fungi absorb nutrients from the soil, which return to the tree. So the next time you spot a new fly agaric above ground, it’s probably already all around you beneath the soil.
While fungi and vibrant leaves are the most obvious visual signs of autumn, there’s a particular sound that many of us associate with the season: the bellows of red deer stags. From Richmond Park to the Scottish Highlands, the red deer rut is in full swing in autumn and stags jostle with each other for the right to breed with a harem of females, or hinds. While some antler clashing may occur, often it’s easier to bellow to create a loud deterrent and clear off any potential rivals. The rut requires an enormous amount of energy from each stag, and with the added strain of not even eating during this time, stags can lose around 14% of their body weight. As our largest living land mammal, it’s quite the impressive sight to watch powerful stags roaring, their breath misting in the cold air.
By Rebecca Gibson