Thursday, June 28, 2012

June Bugs

During my travels around the country over the past week I have encountered lots of nice invertebrates and bugs in the areas where I surveyed. Please see below. 

 Daddy-Long-Legs an alien looking creature up close © John N Murphy
Sawfly Tenthredo Mesomelas © John N Murphy
Brimstone Moth © John N Murphy
Bee Orchid at the Shannon Airport Lagoon © John N Murphy
Pyramid Orchid at the Shannon Airport Lagoon © John N Murphy
Ringlet Butterfly © John N Murphy
 Leptura Livida Beetle © John N Murphy
Lochmaea Capreae Beetle © John N Murphy
Hover Fly Helophilus trivittatus © John N Murphy 
Micro Moth © John N Murphy

Leptura Strangalia quadrifasciata Longhorn Beetle © John N Murphy

I found this Longhorn Beetle at Leptura Strangalia quadrifasciata at home in my garden last weekend on Sunday 24th June 2012, while painting some trellis in my courtyard. It is localised and rare in Ireland – not found in northern counties except for one record from Ards Forest, West Donegal.  Very easily confused with the even rarer Leptura aurulenta which is recorded from Kerry, Cork and Wicklow. There are recent records of quadrifasciata in Co Clare (Castleton, Cragmoher & Ardnamurry Loughs). But it is far from common.  The larvae live mainly on rotten birch and the adults fly in late spring to early summer.  Thanks to Roy Anderson for the information on the distrubution of this species in Ireland.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rosemary Leaf Beetle

Rosemary Leaf Beetle on Lavender (A new invaded to Ireland) © Barbara Graham

The Rosemary Leaf Beetle Chrysolima Americana is a small purple-striped green beetle, 8mm long that live on aromatic herbs such as Sage, Thyme, Lavender and of course Rosemary from which it gets the name. They originate from Southern Europe and were first detected in Britain in the mid 1990’s.

Up to last Wednesday 20th June 2012, these colourful little invaders were never recorded in Ireland.  Barbara Graham a keen outdoor enthusiast was taking photographs in the garden of her apartment complex in North Dublin City, when she noticed a very colourful little beetle munching at the Lavender plants.  She ran off numerous shots of at least 30 of these Rosemary Beetles, even mating couples.  While researching later on the internet, Barbara realized that these beetles were unusual to Ireland.  Two sample specimens were taken and sent to Cork for verification with the positive ID being returned that these were definitely Rosemary Leaf Beetles and probably the first ever recorded in the country.

Rosemary Leaf Beetle  © Barbara Graham

Rosemary Beetles are considered a pest and congregate among the leaves of herbs, which they feed on. The beetles lay elongated eggs beneath the leaves from September and continue to do so on warm days right through the winter. These hatch after a couple of weeks and the larvae feed on the plants for about three weeks before entering the soil to pupate. Two weeks later the adults emerge and continue munching through the leaves and laying their eggs to kick start the cycle once more.  Please let Invasive Species Ireland ( know if you have encountered these destinctive bugs in your garden.

John N Murphy

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bog Asphodel

 Bog Asphodel © John N Murphy

As we approach July, and what is traditionally a month to head to the bog to stack and collect turf, has this year been hit once more by adverse weather.  Even with these adverse conditions and the decimation of our bogs through the practice of mass turf cutting, plants are one of the few life forms to regenerate quickly on these landscapes. With that said, there is one small plant that brightens up the bog, even on the wettest of days.
The Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum is a highly visible plant restricted to acidic damp habitats. These habitats support a range of plants that do not grow elsewhere, and are vulnerable to peat harvesting and land management changes. During July and August the bright yellow flowers of the Bog Asphodel stands out against the muted colour of the heather or dark peat bog lands of Ireland. The flowers of this little beauty are star shaped and within them the stalks of the anthers are covered in dense yellow hairs.

Bog Asphodel grows widely in wet heaths and Sphagnum bogs of Western Europe. The leaves of Bog Asphodel are narrow with parallel veins that appear grass like. The leaves grow at the base of the plant with a few on the flowering stem that can reach 10-40cm in height. As well as producing seeds Bog Asphodel can spread through vegetative reproduction via its creeping rhizomes. This method of growth forms dense patches of the plant. Towards late August and into autumn the seed capsules, stems and leaves turn from green to orange and even in this decaying state they still give good colour to the bog.

The asphodel was considered an immortal flower in Greek mythology and, according to Homer in his Odyssey, is said to cover the fields of Heaven. The species name of “ossifragum” meaning bone breaker derives from the observation that sheep grazing where Bog Asphodel grows had brittle bones. In Donegal it is known as Cruppany grass. Farmers believed that it gave their sheep foot rot or ‘Cruppany’. Old folklore thought that if cattle ate the Bog Asphodel, their bones would also become brittle. This is because the Asphodel grows on land lacking in nutrients such as calcium that are required for strong bones.

Sheep can get brittle bones from eating Bog Asphodel ©  John N Murphy

In recent times scientist have proven that chemicals within Bog Asphodel can cause brittle bones. Also the dark acidic conditions that the plant favours, provides grazing that is calcium poor which does not support strong bone formation. But be aware, Bog Asphodel does have some toxic properties to livestock.  This is why it is not good practice to let cattle or sheep graze on peat lands.  Older generations knew that grazing on bogs where asphodel grew could cause kidney or liver damage to their livestock.

So the next time you head to the bog to turn a few sods, remember that those pretty little yellow flowers under your feet could lead to brittle bone if a few mysteriously make it into your ham sandwich.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Grey Partridge

I was in Dublin yesterday and on my way home I dropped off at Boora Bog in County Offaly, to catch up with Grey Partridge for my year list. I came upon four birds two different pairs and ths young Irish Hare along the roadside that gave great views.

 A male & female Grey Partridge near their nest site at Boora © John N Murphy
A young Irish Hare running the roads of Boora Bog © John N Murphy

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pine Marten

Last week I was on my way to a site in North Mayo to do some survey work.  Travelling the road between Castlebar and Bangor Eris, I drove past two fellow ecologists Gavin Fennessy and Katharine Kelleher. Both were standing on the roadside with a bewildered look on their faces.  As I travelled along the road I decided to phone Gavin to make sure all was well.  He informed me that they had just came upon a Pine Marten that had been knocked down by a car, and that the kittens were gathering around the dead mother.  I immediately turned my jeep around and went back to see the kits.  Gavin and Katharine had pulled the dead mother off the road and placed her under cover next to the road verge.  The kittens were coming back to suckle off the dead mother and all were worried that the little kittens would end up knocked down like the mother.  Fortunately the local NPWS Rangers caught the young kits later that afternoon and brought them into care.

Young Pine Marten kittens suckling off their dead mother © John N Murphy

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Macro Magic

After many years of doing without a Macro Lense I eventually went out and purchased one late last week. The last Macro Lense I owned was way back in 1987, so it was long overdue.  The attached shots are some of my results from over the weekend.  (Floss, What do you think of the results? I know I said I could do without one but not anymore).

 House Fly © John N Murphy
  Yellow Dung Flies © John N Murphy
 Sawfly larvae © John N Murphy

Thursday, June 7, 2012


While working around different parts of the country over the last two weeks I have encountered much wildlife in a number of varied habitats.  Below are just some of these creatures.

Longhorn Beetles Rhagium bifaciatum © John N Murphy
 Green Hairstreak Butterfly © John N Murphy
Click Beetle Ampedus balteatus © John N Murphy
 Orb or Garden Spider © John N Murphy
Wolf Spider with egg sack © John N Murphy
Water Carpet Moth © John N Murphy
Argent & Sables Moth © John N Murphy

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ugly Little Thing

Hedgehog © John N Murphy

The June Bank Holiday weekend and the start of the summer.  We all look forward to it and the fine weather that it brings. With this fine weather about, people move from home to holiday resort,  jamming our roads with traffic as they try to get from A – B as quickly as possible.  This is the start of the crazy season and the season of the ugly little thing, the Hedgehog.  His Irish name Gráinneog which translates to ugly little thing sums him up.

For most of us, the only time we see one of these nocturnal creatures is after it has been flattened by a car tyre along our country roads or newly built motorways. When surveys have been carried out to find out which animals are killed most often on our roads the poor hedgehog often comes out in the top four.  Surveys have calculated that about 12,000 to 15,000 hedgehogs are killed on our roads every year. This seems a very big number, but if the hedgehog population can suffer these deaths, and yet not go extinct, surely this is a good thought. To help preserve these spiky mammals less speed and more care, especially at night might help preserve these little mammals and us as well.

I recall my first encounter with one of these little fellows.  One weekend in June myself, the parents and my four brothers were travelling back from a day at the picturesque seaside village of Kilmore Quay in Wexford. My dad suddenly hit the brakes and swirved our Ford estate car to narrowly miss a little spikey ball in the middle of the road.  As he pulled the car to the side of the road, we all piled out to see the cute little mammal that caused the commotion, a hedgehog.  Of course we did all the wrong things.  In a joint group decision we reckoned he would be a great pet for the garden, so little ‘Hammy’ was wrapped in a beach towel and taken home to our small suburban garden. I had the pleasure of holding him all the way home. Of course once released into the garden he was never spotted again.  Always leave them close to where you find them, this was the first lesson I didn’t learn, till many years later.

Hedgehog © John N Murphy

Hedgehogs are solitary and nocturnal animals. In summer, hedgehogs spend the day in temporary nests. They hibernate during the winter, in a small nest or winter retreat called a hibernaculum. Most hedgehog deaths occur during this hibernation period due to freezing or destruction of their nests. Many are burnt to death when piles of stick or brush are gathered for bonfire burning in early spring, when gardens are being prepared and tidied for the summer.

The 6,000 or so spines on a hedgehog offer protection from predators, when they roll up into a tight ball covering the head and soft underside. Animals with long snouts like foxes can often prize open Hedgehogs and eat or attack them from their soft underbody.

The hedgehog's breeding season lasts from about April until September. The main period of activity is in May and June, when the nights are warm. The gestation period for hedgehogs is about four and a half weeks. Most baby hedgehogs are born in June and July. Hedgehogs have up to 2 litters a year, of about 4 - 5 young.

What can we do to help hedgehogs survive and why should we bother to protect these ugly little creatures.  Well, like all biodiversity on the planet, they have their uses and niech. Habitat loss is a big issue, especially the clearance of hedgerows and rough ground where they live. Did you know, hedgehogs can swim, they are great climbers, they run almost as fast as a dog and they rid your garden of pesty plant eating slugs. These are just some of their skills.

Apart from being run down on roads and the loss of suitable habitat, their next biggest cause of death is poisoning. Hedgehogs love slugs, not the big fat black or brown ones that live on dead matter, but the small stripped ones that prefer to feed on living plants. Slug pellets placed in the garden to prevent grenery being munched is a big problem for hedgehogs. The main ingredient in slug pellets is a substance called metaldehyde. The reason it is used is because it is (usually) harmless to other animals, and it takes only small doses to kill slugs.

Hedgehogs prefer small striped Slugs that feed on live plants, They don't normally eat these large black ones that feed on dead vegetation © John N Murphy

To kill a slug, it takes between 5 and 20 micrograms of metaldehyde per gram of slug. Whereas a hedgehog sized animal would need 200 - 1,000 micrograms per gram. So it would take 40 - 50 times as much to kill a hedgehog than a slug. That is a lot, but many other factors need to be considered. For example, will hedgehogs eat slug pellets? They do not usually like hard, dry things but post mortems have found slug pellets in hedgehogs, proof that they will eat them occasionally. However, this is not proof that they died as a result of eating the slug pellets.

So what if hedgehogs eat poisoned slugs? Dead or sick slugs are an easy target for hedgehogs, so it would seem that many hedgehogs could get metaldehyde in this way. But metaldehyde soon decomposes in dead slugs, so the risk is minimal. If however, a hedgehog did eat poisoned slugs, the sort of doses involved would mean that a hedgehog would have to eat about 5,000 slugs for it to prove deadly. Some tests show that to kill a 1lb hedgehog it would take about 250 milligrams of metaldehyde, much more than would be consumed by eating poisoned slugs, or pellets themselves.

Hedgehog © John N Murphy

This seems to suggest that slug pellets are safe, but this does not take into account the effect of small doses which could cause smaller problems from sickness to birth defects. It would seem that more research needs to be done in this area. There are some things that you could do to help prevent poisoning by pellets such as purchase only pellets that contain blue dye and taste nasty to hedgehogs.  Use slug pellets sparingly or do what I do, leave out beer for your slugs.  This might result in drunken Hedgehogs all over your garden.  But BE WARNED, this might just lead to a June Hedgefest of ugly little things, in field near you.

Wicklow Way

Made a flying visit to County Wicklow yesterday to catch up on a few birds for the year.  Managed to see a few Woodpeckers, Red Kites near Redcross, and at Kilcoole while visiting the Little Tern colony, the Hobby that was found the day before gave cracking views.  It  allow birders to approach fairly close as it sat on the fence posts along the railway line near the Buckthorn bushes next to the wardens halting site. 

 First-summer Hobby at Kilcoole © John N Murphy
Great Spotted Woodpecker at an undisclosed site in Wicklow © John N Murphy
Little Tern on the beach at Kilcoole © John N Murphy