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A bug-mazing day cycling in and around the woods!

For family walk with a theme, how about bug hunting from Ladycross car park in amongst the huge oaks. Cycle the trails here for some extra fun.

The New Forest National Park is known for it’s density of beetles. It’s estimated that there are 2,600 kinds of beetles, (65%) of Britain’s c. 4,000 species living here. They love the dense green foliage of the deep forest and construct their homes of twigs, leaf stalks and pine needles. But you won’t see them unless you look for them.

None are dangerous, but all are shy! The best thing to do it look carefully on the sides of the cycle or walking trails and see what you can see. You can also lift up dead wood, part deep tufts of grass, gently turn over piles of dead leaves. You’ll quickly discover lots of crawly things.

My favourite is the large and very beautiful dor bettle. A sort of dung beetle, this chap is important for the recycling of animal poo in the forest. They are black on top and an iridescent purple, red or green underneath. Please handle them carefully and make sure you put them back where you found them – or best of all – don’t pick them up at all.

The cycling here is great for families with small children. The area is car free, very flat, light but firm gravelled. The signage is ok – but definitely have some kind of map with you. Once you’re in the trees its very easy to lose yourself.

Make sure you look out for communities of Southern Wood Ants, Britains largest ant. The are fun to watch and will provide plenty of entertainment and learning for kids as they travel across the forest floor transporting their food back home.

The New Forest Explorers Guide website says this;

“Southern wood ant nests are carefully piled high to provide a warm, humid, weather-proof home. They are often placed around a central, often rotted, tree stump, the decayed root system of which provides ready-made underground passageways for the ants…The homes potentially shelter tens of thousands of southern wood ants, interior chambers and galleries, many underground, provide living quarters for the ants, and also space within which eggs will be laid, larvae develop, pupae form and new adults emerge.

All are the centre of extremely complex social structures, places where southern wood ants lives are played out, largely out of sight of prying human eyes.”

Stopping for a breather in another spot we found a wonderful dor beetle (a type of dung beetle).

It is one of the top areas in the country with coleopterists (those who study beetles). This Guide by the National Park Authority is a good start.

The New Forest Explorers Guide says this about them. “All these dung beetles have shiny, dark-coloured, strongly ridged wing cases. Dor and wood dor beetles have a quite striking green, blue or purple iridescent sheen, whilst minotaurs are normally just glossy black. All also have large, spiky front legs, specially adapted for digging.

Cow pats, horse droppings, fox scats: nothing goes to waste. Supplies are stored for future use in shallow tunnels, and provisions set aside for newly hatched dung beetle youngsters in specially constructed, underground nest chambers. Dung is taken down into the nest, mixed with fragments of wood and placed in each of the chambers. Eggs are laid, one in each chamber, beside or within the ready-made food supply, just waiting for the dung beetle larvae to hatch out and tuck in.”

Fascinating stuff. And enough poo in the story to keep any child under 10 entertained.

We headed up past Stubby Cross Inclosure on the left, through the fir and oak forest to Denny Lodge (our only hill) and on top found a collection of some of the loveliest forest oaks I’ve come across recently. I might be repeating myself. I often say that about the trees around here.