“Wee Tim’rous Beasties”: Studies Of Animal Life And Character Informative Summary


This book is a collection of nature essays from Douglas English, a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. In it, he uses vivid descriptions and unique insights to capture the lives and personalities of various small creatures, often referred to as “wee tim’rous beasties.” English’s writing is a combination of natural history observation, human-like characterization, and a playful use of language, bringing a new perspective to the everyday lives of these animals.

Throughout the essays, English emphasizes the struggles for survival that these creatures face in a world dominated by larger, more powerful predators. He explores the intricate relationships between prey and predator, highlighting the tactics used for both offense and defense. The book provides a glimpse into the delicate balance of nature, showing how the survival of each species is inextricably linked to the other.

Key Findings:

  • The Black Rat was once prevalent in Britain, but is now mostly extinct, replaced by the more powerful brown rat.
  • The Harvest Mouse is the smallest British quadruped, with a unique prehensile tail.
  • Sparrows are often blamed for bullying martins, but this is often a misconception due to sparrows being poisoned by humans.
  • The Purple Emperor butterfly is a majestic creature with a distinctive purple color, making it a rare and sought-after sight.
  • The Shrew Mouse is a relentless predator of insects and has a high metabolism that requires constant eating to survive.
  • The Mole is a powerful creature with incredible burrowing abilities, creating intricate tunnels to navigate and protect their territory.


  • Survival Tactics: Readers will learn about the various strategies animals use to survive, including camouflage, defense mechanisms like spines and shells, and offensive tactics like venom and speed.
  • Ecosystem Balance: The essays emphasize the interconnectedness of ecosystems and how the presence or absence of a particular species can have a significant impact on others.
  • Animal Behavior: Readers gain insights into the social interactions, mating rituals, and parenting behaviors of various animal species.
  • Natural History: The book provides a detailed account of the natural history of common British animals, including their physical characteristics, habitats, and life cycles.

Historical Context: This book was published in 1903, a time when the British Empire was at its peak, and a period of significant social and technological change. The industrial revolution was in full swing, and urbanization was rapidly changing the landscape of the country. While the essays focus on the natural world, they also provide a glimpse into the human impact on wildlife through hunting, pollution, and habitat loss.


  • The harvest mouse has a prehensile tail, allowing it to hang from cornstalks. This is unique to the harvest mouse in Britain and Ireland.
  • The black rat was the dominant rat species in Britain for 300 years before being replaced by the brown rat in the 18th century.
  • The Purle Emperor butterfly is a rare sight in Britain due to its specific habitat requirements.
  • Shrew mice have a high metabolism and must eat constantly to survive, making them voracious predators.
  • The Mole is the most powerful burrowing creature in Britain, capable of moving hundreds of kilograms of soil.
  • Sparrows are often accused of driving out martins from their nests, but this is usually caused by poisoned sparrows.
  • Dormice hibernate for up to 9 months, entering a state of deep sleep to survive the cold winter months.
  • Voles have an elaborate social structure, living in colonies and sharing burrows.
  • Spiders are not carnivores but are predators, capturing their prey in webs.
  • The water-spider lives in a bubble it creates underwater and uses it as a diving bell.
  • The stoat is a very efficient hunter, capable of catching and killing prey much larger than itself.
  • Hedgehogs are not poisonous but possess spines for defense.
  • Squirrels are skilled climbers and have a natural parachute-like tail to help them glide.
  • The mole-cricket is a relative of the mole and possesses similar burrowing abilities.
  • The water-rat is a semi-aquatic rodent, spending much of its time near water but burrowing in the banks.
  • Frogs can be poisonous and have a defense mechanism that causes them to release venom when threatened.
  • Snakes are not venomous and only rely on constriction to kill their prey.
  • Caterpillars have various defense mechanisms, including camouflage, mimicry, and warning colors to deter predators.
  • Toads are not poisonous but do have a defense mechanism that causes them to secrete a sticky substance.
  • The ichneumon fly lays its eggs in other insects, leading to their death and providing food for the fly’s offspring.


  • It is estimated that sparrows cause £770,094 of damage to crops in Britain every year.
  • A sparrow can eat up to 3000 insects in a day, making them valuable insect predators.
  • The shrew mouse eats roughly 2-3 times its weight in insects each day.
  • The mole can create up to 200 meters of tunnels in a single day.
  • The average lifespan of a hedgehog is 2-3 years.
  • A female water-rat can produce 2-4 litters of offspring per year.
  • A toad can lay thousands of eggs at a time.
  • The life cycle of the Purple Emperor butterfly is about 1 year.


  • Prehensile: Capable of grasping or holding.
  • Noctule: A large species of bat.
  • Ichneumon: A parasitic wasp that lays eggs in other insects.
  • Branchiopod: A type of crustacean that lives in fresh water.
  • Caddisworm: An aquatic larva that lives in a protective case made of sticks, stones, or other materials.
  • Caddis-fly: An insect that lays eggs in water and has a larva that lives in a protective case.
  • Loopers: A type of caterpillar that moves by looping its body.
  • Tadpole: A larval stage of a frog.
  • Lamborn: A type of eel.
  • Gorse: A type of prickly shrub.


  • The story of the harvest mouse escaping from the reaper by hiding in a corn sheaf.
  • The black rat’s desperate fight for survival against the invading brown rats.
  • The description of the stoat’s hunting tactics and its deadly efficiency.
  • The story of the mole’s incredible burrowing abilities and the complexity of its tunnels.
  • The example of the caterpillar mimicking a spider to deter predators.
  • The description of the water-rat’s unique swimming technique.
  • The toad’s survival strategy of laying numerous eggs to ensure at least one survives.
  • The water-spider’s bubble home and its hunting techniques.
  • The description of the Purple Emperor butterfly’s courtship rituals.

Conclusion: “Wee Tim’rous Beasties” is a fascinating and insightful glimpse into the lives of small creatures, revealing the complex world they inhabit. Through vivid descriptions and entertaining stories, English brings to life the challenges of survival, the intricate relationships within ecosystems, and the resilience of life in the face of adversity. The book serves as a reminder of the hidden wonders of nature and the importance of respecting all forms of life.

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