Tag Archives: zoology

The Aliens Have Landed

If you want to see an unusual sight then it would be worth your while paying a visit to the National Gardens Exhibition and Visitor Centre in the village of Kilquade, a short distance from Greystones. There is a very impressive pond in the garden centre there which both houses and imprisons a large number of North American terrapins, all Yellow-eared Sliders. They have been there for a few years.

Yellow-eared Slider terrapins are exotic, but also extremely hardy, used to dealing with far colder temperatures that we get in Wicklow.
Yellow-eared Slider terrapins are exotic, but also extremely hardy, used to dealing with far colder temperatures that we get in Wicklow.

The Yellow-eared Sliders in this pond are all unwanted pets, but it is worth noting that some people dumped their pet terrapins in rivers, lakes and ponds around Dublin in the wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze, where some are reportedly thriving, and it is only a matter of time before they arrive in Wicklow, if they are not already here.

Terrapins are not the gentle vegetarians that the dry-land dwelling tortoises are, being active predators of fish, water birds and even small mammals. They grow to the diameter of dinner-plates and weigh the same as a building brick, so these guys are powerful creatures. Now, it has been assumed they cannot breed in the wild because sustained warm temperatures are required over a period of weeks to keep the eggs alive. But we are enjoying just such sustained temperatures right now, and I have spoken to one or two naturalists who have told me there is some evidence these terrapins have successfully reproduced in the wild already.

The really interesting thing is that people who look at this pond often don’t even notice the terrapins at first as they are like statuettes as they bask in the sun, so it’s worth checking out this escape-proof pond to familiarise yourself and train your eye. They don’t look as obvious when you’re there standing in front of them as they do in this photo.

Meanwhile, back in the swamp…

Here’s a pic of me (taken by my brother)  down in the swampy fen of the East Coast Nature Reserve, a great place to see Sika deer.

Me down on the East Coast Nature Reserve looking for one of our larger mammal species. Only the mosquitoes and tiny culicoides midges are much of a nuisance in spring. But in June the horseflies start to show up, so watch out.
Me down on the East Coast Nature Reserve looking for one of our larger mammal species. Only the mosquitoes and tiny culicoides midges are much of a nuisance in spring. But in June the horseflies start to show up, so watch out.

What was I looking for? A really big animal that is now found in the wilds of Wicklow after being (supposedly) absent for a thousand years, the Wild Boar. In fact, they are now found all over Ireland, but there is some degree of mystery about them. Were they deliberately introduced for some reason? Or, are these the descendants of domestic pigs that have gone wild? There is some evidence that domestic pigs gone wild will revert to being Wild Boar after only a few generations breeding in the wild. This makes sense, but it’s quite a change, considering that the skulls of pigs and Wild Boars are completely different.

Anyhow, Sika (remember “sika” is the Japanese word for deer) and Wild Boar are found in pretty much the same habitats in Wicklow, but both are extremely good at staying quiet, and you probably won’t know they’re around unless you find their footprints. So here’s what they look like:

The print of the Wild Boar is much larger thsan the Sika, being roughly as long as the palm of a man' hand, from the base of the fingers to the heel of the hand. The best identifiying mark is that of the two spur-like toes at the rear of the hoof. These two prints are shown to scale. With the Sika the outer toe of the hoof is usually larger than the inner one.
The print of the Wild Boar is much larger than that of the Sika, being roughly as long as the palm of a man’ hand, from the base of the fingers to the heel of the hand. The best identifiying mark is that of the two spur-like toes at the rear of the hoof. These two prints are shown to scale. With the Sika the outer toe of the hoof is usually larger than the inner one. The darker areas are the deeper impressions in the earth made by the hooves.

If anyone manages to get a photo of a Wild Boar in Wicklow I would love to hear about it. I have seen Wild Boar in the wild, but not in Ireland yet, and it’s very exciting to know they are out there. It is still very debatable whether or not they could be properly classed as invasive species. Pigs often lived practically wild lives (free range)  in Ireland up until the mid-20th century. They were always a factor in the landscape, and modern intensive farming which took pigs out of the landscape could actually have had a detrimental effect on the landscape. We now know wild boar, by rooting and wallowing, have important beneficial effects on landscapes across Europe. Although they are not popular with farmers because they will eat crops and root in fields, they could prove to be very important.  Wild Boar are certainly not dangerous monsters either, just big wild animals and one of my fondest memories is watching a pink sea of flamingoes in southern Spain when a big Wild Boar wandered out to the edge of their small lake.

 

Spider e-Book

In autumn many people were interested in spiders due to the surge in activity that occurs at that time of the year. Some of you contacted me to ask about different spiders, and one or two asked me if I might be providing a book for identification at some time in the future, and I promised I would do that. It took quite a while but I’m glad to say I finally finished it and it is now one of the only books on the subject available from Amazon for the Kindle e-reader:

http://www.amazon.com/Irish-Spiders-ebook/dp/B00ALJ8JTE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355851481&sr=8-1&keywords=irish+spiders

My plan is to update the information in this book on an annual basis. It should be of useful to anybody interested in (or worried by) any of the spiders they encounter in Ireland, especially as it’s packed with photos. Feedback is welcome and will allow me to make subsequent editions more user-friendly, so anybody who decides to buy it shouldn’t hesistate to tell me where they feel improvements could be made.

When I recently showed this work to some of my friends a small number recoiled in horror at the thought of such a book, but spiders are creatures we share our world with, and no two spider species are exactly the same in appearance or behaviour. I hope this publication will at least help people to understand spiders a little better, and with a lot less fear.