Few people would consider it a compliment to be called a ‘parasite’. But there is more to the lifestyle than tapeworms and ticks.
This week, I’ve come across two of the UK’s strangest wild things, both of which are parasites of a sort. First up is a small wildflower that is easily overlooked in the glut of ground flora erupting in spring.
It’s a toothwort, which is entirely dependent on other plants for its nutrition. It absorbs everything that it requires through parasitizing roots, often of hazel or beech. With no need to make its own food, it contains no chlorophyll, and pops out of the soil as a rather ghostly flower.
The second species appears even stranger to our land-based lives. Jawless, four-eyed and primeval, lampreys can be mistaken for eels at a glance, but their behaviour is very different. They latch onto fish and drink their blood like leeches.
A tad gruesome? Perhaps, but they’re only making a living, like everything else in the natural world. And lampreys themselves have predators, like this beautiful otter that I saw in Norfolk a few years back.