Wonderful wildlife on Brownsea Island
Throughout the woodland on Brownsea you will discover large mounds of small twigs and pine needles, these are the nests of wood ants, a large red and black ant species locally common but internationally scarce and under threat.
They play a very important part in the ecology of the woodland, farming the Pine Aphid high in the tree tops for its honeydew, which they take back to the nest along with insect prey. The workers are all female and live for a couple of months, the queen can live for up to fifteen years.
Wood ants are good at giving the unwary a nip with their jaws then squirting a tiny drop of formic acid from their tail into the bite. It stings for a few minutes, so watch where you are sitting! It is this formic acid that the ants use to subdue their prey to carry back to the nest.
Interestingly, some bird species have been seen disturbing the wood ant's nest in order to enrage the ants. They have then stood with their wings spread, allowing the ants to spray them with the acid, killing the parasites that live on the bird's wings.
There are plenty of sites on Brownsea where Common Lizard may be seen, small log stacks, the edges of heather patches or even the board walk on the way to the DWT reserve. The best time is on a cool but sunny day when the lizards bask as they need the suns warmth to allow them to become active. Common Lizards are one of the world’s most effective thermoregulators and can be found as far north as the Arctic Circle.
There is a breeding population of Sika on Brownsea that are considered to be the initial source of the population that has spread out over much of Dorset. They are an Asiatic species similar to our native Red Deer and are known to hybridise with them where the two species both occur.
They are Crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) but can be seen in small groups during the day around the island, usually in the quieter areas. They are extraordinarily difficult to pick out should they choose to remain motionless. When the fawns are very young, the mothers leave them alone and hidden for hours at a time, so if you should accidentally come across one, look on from a distance as it hasn’t been deserted.
You can have a look into the sea from the Quay.....
From late March right through until mid-autumn, the sea off the pier can at times, be thick with fish visible from the side. The three species most commonly seen are Sand Smelt (Atherina Presbyter), the only UK member of the Silverside group of fishes, Sand Eels (Ammodytes Tobianus) and juveniles of both sprats and herrings (Clupidae), collectively known as whitebait.
Minotaur Beetles (Typhaeus typhoeus)
You may notice small holes surrounded by earth in many places around the island, especially on the grassy and sandy areas. These are created by Minotaur beetles, a type of dung beetle. They fill up their tunnel with deer or rabbit droppings for their larvae to feed on. They are more active at night but should you see one, the male is quite spectacular at up to 2cms in length and with horns on his head like a miniature Triceratops dinosaur. They are common on Brownsea but nationally quite scarce.