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October deer rut and insects

Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fallTree by tree - the autumn sequence Berries, fruit, nuts and shrubsFlowers Birds • Weather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here see more October butterfly photos.

The first half of October sees the climax of the deer rut that starts in late September. A wonderful place to observe this is Richmond Park or Windsor Great Park, where dominant red deer males gather harems of females (or rather the females gather round the male – it is they who choose where to be) and mate with them, while defending them against challengers. They mark their territory in many ways, the most noticeable of which is their load roar. Younger males who fancy their chances tend to linger just out of range of the dominant males, looking for a chance to challenge, or waiting for the dominant male to get tired. Females can, and sometimes do, change their mind about the male they have chosen and just wander off.

Red deer are no longer a wild species in southern England (unless you count the ones in Richmond Park, which date from a time when the species was common here), but fallow and roe deer also have ruts. Fallow deer in particular make a very distinctive bark (sometimes wrongly thought to be the sound of a wild boar). If you are lucky enough to hear this in the woods, keep your distance, however. The deer in Richmond Park also need to be treated with respect, but are obviously more used to being watched by humans.

After the rut, red deer seem to congregate in large mixed herds, with a dominant male still occasionally roaring, but all the others sitting placidly around. Later they split, with the females and males living in different groups.

Insects and butterflies

Most insects have either died off by now or gone into a dormant state for winter - spiders, woodlice, crane flies, ladybirds and queen wasps all do this, and if you turn over logs you may disturb them. On a sunny day you may also see the occasional honeybee, queen bumble bee, wasp, hoverfly or fly around the remaining flowers, particularly ivy flowers early in the month. One can still be surprised to see dragonflies at this time too, or perhaps a grasshopper or cricket. Throughout the month winter gnats continue to mill around, and in sheltered spots snails may still be active.

A few butterflies may also appear if the weather is mild. Early in the month you can see the occasional small white, brimstone or speckled wood. By this time you assume that butterflies are all at an end for the year, and are then surprised to see a comma, peacock or a red admiral flying around as if it is high summer, often near a flowering ivy bush. Both the comma and the peacock overwinter as adults (as do the brimstone and small tortoiseshell), and so are probably looking for a good hibernation spot. The red admiral is a migrant, but one which is proven to survive in places till well into the winter.

More October pages:

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