July Wildlife Watch with Cornwall Wildlife Trust
July is a great time for wildlife watching in Cornwall. Read our blog from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to find out more about the Sunfish, adders and Cornish heath.
Ocean sunfish, Mola mola - the world's largest bony fish - are native to warm, tropical waters, however these impressive creatures may be seen off the coasts of Cornwall during spells of warm weather over the summer months.
The Sunfish is flat and disc-shaped in appearance, with a distinctive tall dorsal fin, which often sticks out of the water and sometimes leads to their being mistaken for sharks. They can grow up to an impressive 3 metres long and weigh over 1000kg. Sunfish are most often seen 'sunbathing' - floating on their sides - a habit which gave them their name. It is still not completely understood why Sunfish appear to ‘sunbathe’ in this way but one explanation is that they come to the surface to allow birds, such as gulls, to pick parasites from their rough, leathery skin.
July is often a good month for finding adders (Viper berus) in the Cornish countryside. The adder has a thick body, triangular head and a characteristic v-shaped mark on its head, often with zigzag markings along its back. During the summer, adders can be found across the county in good numbers and virtually any large areas of grassland or heathland may hold them. In Cornwall, they tend to favour areas of coastal heathland, like our nature reserves at Phillips' Point, or Upton Towans, both at Hayle.
Like all reptiles, adders are cold blooded and need to spend time ‘basking’ in order to warm themselves up. A basking adder may still be quite cool and thus lethargic and slow-moving; it is these animals that the public are most likely to encounter. Nonetheless, any adder will normally take the chance to slither away undetected at the first sign of human disturbance.
The adder is the UK's only venomous snake, but its poison is generally of little danger to humans: an adder bite can be painful and cause inflammation, but is really only dangerous to the very young, ill or old. If bitten, medical attention should be sought immediately, however. Adders are secretive animals and prefer to slither off into the undergrowth rather than confront and bite humans and domestic animals; most attacks happen when they are trodden on or picked up. Instead, they use their venom to immobilise and kill their prey of small mammals, nestlings and lizards.
July is also the month when Cornish heath (Erica vagans) begins to flower. This plant is unusual amongst the heather family in not enjoying acid conditions, favouring the more unusual alkaline heaths found over the serpentine rocks of the Lizard peninsula. The county flower of Cornwall, Cornish heath is a small but attractive shrub, and the narrow, dark green leaves sprout in fours or fives. The long, dense flower spikes have leafy tips, and it forms dense carpets which hug the ground, the bell-shaped flowers blooming in pink and purple from July to September.
The unique geology and soils of the Lizard means it is home to a number of scarce and nationally rare plants. More common in southwest Europe, the Lizard is the only place in the UK where Cornish heath may be found, at places like our North Predannack Downs Nature Reserve or Windmill Farm Nature Reserve that we manage with the Cornwall Birdwatching Preservation Society.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust is the leading local charity working to protect Cornwall’s wildlife and wild places, on land and at sea. If you love Cornwall’s wildlife you can help them protect it by joining as a member. Visit website
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