Sunday, March 28, 2010

Photography Fellowship Panel

In November 2009 I was honoured with a Fellowship by the Irish Photographic Federation. Here are the 20 images I used in my panel entitled Insects and other arthropods of County Mayo.

White Legged Millipede (Tachypodoiulus niger)

Vine Weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus)

Tachinid Fly (Dexia rustica)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Blue (Cupido minimus)

Peacock (Inachis io)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

Keeled Skimmer Male (Orthetrum coerulescens)

Keeled Skimmer Female (Orthetrum coerulescens)

Holly Blue (Celastina argiolus)

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)

Dark Green Fritillary (Mesoacidalia agaia)

Common Rough Woodlice (Porcellio scaber)

Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus)

Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus)

Bumblebee (Bombus Sp.)

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamnii)

Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo)

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Otter (Lutra lutra)

Ireland and Scotland are strongholds for the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) which is endangered across most of its range. In Ireland it is widespread and relatively common but generally goes unnoticed. Along inland waterways otters are nocturnal and often the only signs of their presence are their spraints (droppings) and sprainting sites. However, coastal otters are diurnal and their activity is a function of tidal rhythms. They generally hunt for food at low water and are most active for the period one hour before low tide to one hour after. Ireland has quite a big tidal range of around 4 metres. Hunting is obviously more successful when the dive time is less and the prey are concentrated into a smaller volume of water. So the best time to watch them is around low water when they are busy fishing and often quite tolerant of an observer watching from the shore. Their preferred food is eel or eel-like fish such as conger eel or butterfish. However, they are opportunistic and will take a whole range of fish and shellfish species if they are available. Other common food items are rockling, blennies, gobies, salmon, trout and crabs.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birds of Great Saltee Island

Spending a day on a remote, uninhabited, marine island is always an exhilarating experience. Some islands provide a peaceful and tranquil respite from the hustle and bustle of daily human activity – just lie back and take in the sound of the waves lapping on the shore. Islands with seabird colonies, however, are far from peaceful. But these bird cities are exciting and enthralling – the incessant screeching and cawing, the wheeling, ducking and diving. The birds take little notice of you as you wander about among them. Visions of Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands spring to mind. For wildlife enthusiasts these islands are magical, heavenly places. Great Saltee Island is one such place, lying just over 3 miles off the coast of Wexford in the South East of Ireland. Uninhabited since 1905 the island is 219 acres in size and is the summer home for at least 40,000 seabirds. The island holds internationally important numbers of many species, as described in Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland: Results of the Seabird 2000 Census (1998 – 2002). Of particular note are the following (breeding adults): 3,800 gannet (Morus bassanus), 300 Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), 4,200 kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), 21,400 common guillemot (Uria aalge), 3,200 razorbill (Alca torda) and 3,000 puffins (Fratercula arctica). Below are a few pictures from a trip to the island last summer:

Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

Razorbill (Alca torda)

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Guillemot (Uria aalge)

Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Garden Biodiversity

Gardens provide valuable habitats for wildlife throughout the world. They are particularly important for many species of invertebrates. The level of biodiversity found in even quite small gardens is quite stunning. In The ecology of a garden: the first fifteen years Jennifer Owen describes a detailed scientific study conducted in her small suburban garden in Leicestershire, England. Between 1972 and 1986 zoologists identified a staggering 1,782 species of animals. This number is a significant underestimate of the actual number of species as some groups of inverebrates were not sampled in detail. Incredibly, they found 533 species of one group of animals, the ichnemonid wasps. The juvenile stages of ichneumonids predominantly parasitise insect larvae. Several of these were previously unrecorded in Britain and at least one was new to Science. So keep a look out - you might discover a new species during the family barbecue! On a summers day in my own garden (1/3 of an acre in the west of Ireland) I suspect that there are more than a million individual animals present. Apart from the obvious groups such as the birds, bees and wasps (Hymenoptera), bugs (Hemiptera), flies (Diptera), beetles (Coleoptera), butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) and spiders (Arachnida) there are vast numbers of tiny, unseen, animals such as springtails living in the soil and leaf litter. I have photographed over 150 species of animals in my garden but I obviously have a long way to go. Below are a few of these:

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Common Rough Woodlice (Porcellio scaber)

Hawthorn Shield Bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale)

An Ichneumonid Wasp

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

The frogs eventually started spawning in my garden pond last week, almost one month later than normal. The temperatures in Ireland over the past 2 months have been the lowest for 50 years. There are only 3 species of amphibians found in Ireland: the common frog, the smooth newt and the natterjack toad. Until recently the prevailing scientific opinion was that frogs were introduced into Ireland somewhere between the 10th and 16th century. However, a recent genetic study, published in 2009, suggests that Irish Rana temporaria differ genetically from British and Western European populations. The UK scientists who conducted the genetic study of populations of European common frogs have put forward the hypothesis that a population may have survived in a glacial refuge during the last ice age. European phylogeny of the common frog (Rana temporaria): routes of postglacial colonisation into the British Isles, and evidence for an Irish glacial refugium. Heredity (2009). Well, whatever about all that, my frogs survived the recent cold snap and they are ready to multiply!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)

There are only a few breeding pairs of great skua (Stercorarius skua) found in Ireland. The first pair was recorded during the seabird census of Britain and Ireland conducted between 1998 and 2002 (Seabird populations of Britain and Ireland: Results of the seabird 2000 Census). Since this time a few pairs have bred regularly on remote islands off the coast of Co. Mayo. Seabird 2000 reported the worldwide distribution of Great Skua as follows (breeding pairs): Scotland 9600, Ireland 1, Faroes 270, Iceland 5400, Norway 440, Russia 10. When breeding, skuas are highly territorial and can be extremely aggressive, as seen in the 2nd picture. This bird swooped within inches of my head making it pretty difficult to photograph. At the time I didn't realise there were skuas on the particular island - had I known I would not have disturbed them. Skuas are opportunistic feeders often following trawlers and taking discarded fish. They may also kill small seabirds or steal food from gannets and other birds (kleptoparasitism).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipera)

The common lizard (Lacerta vivipera) is the only reptile native to Ireland. It has a widespread distribution but is often overlooked. My cat found this one in my garden. Fortunately, for the lizard, I rescued it and released it unharmed (after taking a few pictures). Common lizards feed mainly on insects and interestingly do not lay eggs but give birth to live young.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bristletail (Petrobius maritimus)

Bristletails are flightless insects belonging to the Order Archaeognatha (ancient jaws). Bristletails are an ancient group of insects and are found in fossils dating back as far as the Devonian period (400 million years ago). Although Petrobius maritimus are generally described as a species found on rocky shores I have a population living in my boiler house, about 1 mile from the sea.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spider -v- Wasp

A window-lace-weever spider (Amaurobius fenestralis) attempts to capture a common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). The wasp became trapped in the tangle web and tried to extract itself by beating its wings furiously. The spider approached cautiously, avoiding the sting of the wasp, and managed to bite and paralyze the wasp. After several minutes of trying to drag the unfortunate wasp into its den the anaesthetic began to wear off and the wasp attempted to sting the spider. Eventually the spider realised it had bit off a bit more than it could chew, and retreated. A few minutes later the wasp broke free of the web and took off.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)

This damselfly had recently emerged from my garden pond and was drying its wings in preparation for a new life in the air. The huge eyes are known as compound eyes with thousands of lenses in each one, allowing it to see in all directions. Damselflies spend most of their life under water as larvae, feeding on midge larvae and other tiny aquatic animals. After two years they transform into flying adults but only survive for 1 to 4 weeks.

Damselflies and dragonflies belong to the Order Odonata. There are 11 species of damselfly found in Ireland.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chalcid Wasp

There are over 450 species of Chalcid wasp found in Ireland and they are common in every garden. These beautiful insects are tiny, less than 2mm in length, and usually completely overlooked. At first glance they appear to be tiny midges but on closer inspection their metallic bodies are unmistakable. They are very active and this along with their size make them difficult to photograph. Most species are parasitic on the eggs or larvae of other insects such as butterflies, moths, flies and beetles.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Foraminifera on 1 Cent

This picture shows sand grains from Dog's Bay beach near Roundstone in Connemara. The sand is made up of the tests (shells) of microscopic single celled Protozoa called Foraminifera. There are over 100 species of Forominiferan tests found on the beach. The great Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger described the Foraminifera of Dog's Bay in his book 'The Way That I Went' (1937). He wrote "To lie down on one's face on the beach and examine the sand with a strong lens is a revalation to those unaquainted with the Foraminifera, for their almost microscopic shells are of great beauty and display remarkable variety of design. Some are curled spirally, some appear plaited, some are shaped like a lemonade bottle, some are spherical, some flat, many are delicately sculptured. A sample brought home and examined under a microscope shows an astonishing range of beautiful forms, which these tiny creatures - mere specks of translucent jelly - have evolved in their protective coating".

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bumblebee in Flight

The shutter speed for this picture was 1/5000th of a second showing that this bee's wings beat more than 5,000 times per second! There are 101 species of bee found in Ireland and identification can be extremely difficult. A useful website to help in identifying Irish bees is

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Parasitic Fly (Dexia rustica)

There are around 200 species of parasitic flies found in Ireland. This one lays its eggs in beetle larvae. When the young hatch out they proceed to eat the unfortunate host alive. They leave the vital organs until last to keep the host alive until the fly larvae is ready to pupate.