This Common Blue Butterfly was photographed in August (2014) in a disused limestone quarry in Kilkenny. The quarry, which is surrounded by 11 acres of wild meadow, has not been used in over 60 years. These meadows are populated by a host of wild flowers and are a haven for butterflies. The ‘Common Blue’ butterfly is the most common of the Blues found in Ireland. It has a wingspan of 29 – 35mm and it is tightly tied to dense stands of its food plants i.e., the Bird’s Foot Trefoil and the Common Restharrow. The male is a very attractive shiny blue, whereas the female is mainly brown with her underside being very decorative, with orange crescents and black spots. It is active in sunshine but during dull weather it rests on grass stems with its wings closed. The males fly around their host plants in order to find females. The caterpillars secrete nutrient-containing substances that attract ants and in turn, the ants protect the caterpillars from predators.
The garden snails ancestors are one of the earliest known types of animals in the world. There is fossil evidence that they lived nearly 500 million years ago. All land snails are gastropod mollusks, meaning that they belong to the same group as octopuses – they evolved from the sea. They live for 2 – 3 years, travel at speeds up to 0.047 km/hour and can be found almost everywhere in the world, living in a diverse range of habitats.
Although snails have eyes, they are blind. They are also totally deaf and rely on their sense of smell to find food. The average garden snail has over 14,000 teeth, which are arranged in rows on their tongue. They eat plants, fruit, vegetables, algae, mushrooms, fungi and sand and soil when seeking calcium to harden their shells.
Garden snails hibernate during the winter and live on stored fat built up during the summer months. They are nocturnal and don’t like sunlight because it can dry out their bodies. When conditions become too dry, the snail will retreat into its shell and seal the entrance with a parchment-like barrier known as an epiphragm.
Snails’ secrete a thick slime in order to move around. Because of this slime, they can move over upside down surfaces or crawl across the edge of a razorblade and not injure themselves. This slime, called “mucin” is used in many beauty products such as anti-aging creams, facemasks, moisturisers & eye masks. Snail spas are quite popular in Thailand where living snails are put on the client’s face and left to slither around.
Garden snails are hermaphrodites meaning that it possesses both male and female reproductive organs and these are located on the sides of their heads. Although it is able to self-fertilise most snails mate with another snail. Reproduction takes place in early summer and begins with pairing and courtship. After a period in which the pair caress each other with their tentacles, each snail pierces the skin of its partner with a spiny projection called a ‘love dart’. This ‘love dart’ is believed to be the inspiration for the ‘cupid love arrow’ myth. The function of this love dart is unclear, but it is thought that the mucus may act to improve the survival of sperm. Love darts are only made in sexually mature animals. Mating (lasting 4 – 12 hours) then takes place; each snail inserts its penis into its partner at the same time. The snails separate, and the sperm is stored internally until the eggs are ripe. After the eggs have been fertilised, the snails dig a pit in the soil in which to lay the eggs (usually around 85). After 15 days, the eggs hatch. The hatchlings have translucent and delicate shells.
Snails are a gourmet dish called escargot that is popular in France, Spain, Portugal and in many other countries around the world. Snails are low-fat, protein-rich and a good source of a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, omega 3, selenium, vitamin E and phosphorus. When cooked, snails are prepared with a garlic and parsley butter sauce, and are served in their shells as a starter. They are very expensive because they are considered a delicacy.
The mediterranean Gecko has large, unblinking eyes (ie: there are no eyelids) with vertical pupils. They have bumpy or warty skin and their somewhat odd appearance that also matches their rather intriguing habits. The Mediterranean gecko helps provide year-round insect pest control in our landscapes and homes by feeding on cockroaches and a wide variety of other insects. It is native to Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Geckos have adapted well to living in and around homes. For this reason, their numbers and range seem to be on the increase in many areas in the Southeastern United States. The Mediterranean Gecko body is cylindrical, squat and sometimes flattened on the upper side. They have soft, granular skin that feels velvety to the touch. The coloration of a gecko is very important to their lifestyle. The skin is usually gray with several brownish-red to bright red spots and flecks. They have the ability to lighten or darken the coloring of their skin. They usually do so in order to blend in or to be less noticeable to other animals. Mediterranean Geckos have toes that are equipped with claws and sticky toe pads to aid in climbing. They are expert tree climbers. Their sticky toe pads also allow them to climb walls as well as navigate across glass and screens. They are often observed perched on walls around outside lights, waiting to grab insects attracted to the light. By day, these lizards hide in cracks, crevices and under tree bark. Mediterranean Geckos are nocturnal, being most active during the evening and night time hours. They are frequently found near lighted areas (such as the front entryway), where small insects are abundant during the warm season.
The frog you are most likely to see in Britain is the Common Frog (Rana Temporaria), which lives on land in damp habitats for most of the year. It may be found in open woods, hedgerows, fields and gardens, not too far from water. The body colour varies widely, with upper parts usually brown or olive, but sometimes yellowish- orange or grey. The underside is normally paler, and the whole body is blotched or spotted with a darker colour, which helps to camouflage it against its background. This frog has a distinctive dark patch behind its eye. A male Common Frog is slightly smaller than the female, which measures about 7.5cm (3in.). Frogs move by hopping or leaping, using their long, muscular back legs; they do not crawl. They have very smooth, damp skins. The fully webbed hind feet help them to swim. Diet: Frogs eat insects and other invertebrates, such as slugs, snails and worms. On summer days, they like to hide amongst tall plants and come out on warm, damp evenings to hunt. Like all amphibians, it is hard for them to find food during the winter, and they cannot function in cold temperatures, so from about mid-October they hibernate in a sheltered place on land e.g. under a log, or in the muddy bottoms of ponds. Males often hibernate in the bottom of ponds, so that they are already at the breeding site when the females arrive in the early spring. They can take in sufficient oxygen through their skin during hibernation under the water. Breeding: A frog is ready to breed at about two years old. After their winter hibernation, frogs emerge to migrate to breeding ponds, returning, if possible, to the places where they themselves were hatched. The males usually arrive first, usually in February or March, but often January in the south-west of England and begin croaking loudly to attract the females. The male frog develops thick pads of rough skin on his thumbs, which enable him to grip the slippery female firmly whilst mating. The female releases about 2,000 eggs into the shallow parts of the pond, and, as they leave her body, the male releases his sperm over them. The jelly around each egg swells up, so protecting the egg and helping to keep it warm. The spawn sinks to begin with, but soon swells and rises to the surface. After spawning, the adults usually stay in the water until April, when the weather is warmer, and then live on the land. Tadpoles hatch from the eggs after about two weeks. It will be three months before they will have developed into tiny miniature frogs, ready to leave the pond. As they leave the water, they are very vulnerable to predators such as blackbirds. At any age they may be eaten by cats, crows, herons, ducks, hedgehogs, rats and foxes.
The Green Orb-Weaver Spider (5-7mm in length), as the name suggests, has a bright green abdomen and a yellow or reddish coloured head. Just above the spinners (the tail end) it has a bright red spot. This is more obvious on young spiders and can only be seen from underneath the spider. Freshly hatched spiderlings are red, and change to brown before the autumn. Despite it’s almost fluorescent colour the Green Orb-Weaver Spider can remain very well camouflaged amongst vegetation. It is only when it strays from its normal habitat that it get noticed. It is a common native species that is found throughout the UK and northern Europe.
Members of this family of spiders (12-15mm long) are active hunters with good vision. The Nursery Web Spider hunts amongst low vegetation as well as on the ground. When detecting prey, they characteristically rest on vegetation with the first two pairs of legs together, held out at an angle. During courtship, the male Nursery Web Spider presents the female with a ‘nuptial gift’ in the form of an insect wrapped in silk. Until fairly recently, this gift was thought to protect the male from becoming the female’s next meal. Research has shown, however, that the gift entices the female to mate, and what’s more, the size of the gift is related to how long the female will mate with a male. The larger the gift, the longer copulation will last and so more eggs will be fertilized by more ‘generous’ males bringing larger gifts. Female spiders belonging to this family produce very large egg sacs, which they carry around beneath their body. When the time for the spiderlings to emerge approaches, the female deposits the egg sac on a leaf and spins a protective silk ‘nursery web’ around it. She then opens the egg sac slightly, and stands guard until the spiderlings emerge. These spiders are large, brown and hairy and are often confused with the Wolf Spider. Unlike the wolf spiders, which have two very prominent eyes in addition to the other six, the eyes of the nursery web spiders are more or less the same size. Many species are able to walk on the surface of still bodies of water, and may even dive beneath the surface for a time to escape enemies. These spiders are venomous & can bite you but they are not dangerous. There bite is similar to an ant bite resulting in some very mild swelling for a few days.
The Cricket can be found hiding under logs, grasses, and in crevices. They can also dig holes into the ground to create homes for themselves, or live in holes created by other animals. Males are territorial and will fight off other males, but allow any number of females to coexist in the same shelter. Male crickets produce several distinctive chirps and each chirp is made by rubbing the two outer wings together. Loud and steady chirps made throughout the night are to attract females and to warn off other males. Loud fast-frequency chirps are emitted when males encounter one another and are preparing to fight. They are intended to frighten off the rival male. A soft clipping sound is made when a female is known to be nearby. Its purpose is to encourage the female to mate. Fun Facts: In many parts of the world, the Cricket is thought to bring good luck. It is rumored that the Cricket can tell the outside temperature: Count the number of chirps they make in one minute, divide by 4 and then add the number 40 to reach the outside temperature. There are about 900 species of crickets worldwide.
The Sickle Bearing Bush Cricket can be found in most of Europe and as far eastwards as Japan, including all central Asia. It is a medium size (35mm) grasshopper with a pale green body covered with black spots and can be seen in dry locations: calcareous meadows, fallow lands, bushes and moorlands from July to October. It can be identified by its wings, which are much longer than the elytra (wing cases). The length of the antenna can reach four times the length of the body. The female’s abdomen ends with a sharply upturned ovipositor. The Sickle Bearing Bush Cricket mainly feeds on plants and the female lay the eggs on the shrub’s leaves, particularly on Blackthorn. The Sickle Bearing Bush Cricket can fly a relatively long distance when frightened. Although, not native to the British Isles, in 2006 a breeding colony was discovered during entomological survey work in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve in East Sussex. This is the first confirmed breeding record of the species in Britain as adults and nymphs were recorded. Although it was also recorded in Cornwall over 100 years ago this may have been an occasional migrant but it seems that this continental species may be increasing its range.
“This bright Pink Grasshopper is enough to make anyone jump” – and I didn’t find in the jungles of Borneo or Brazil but in Thomastown, County Kilkenny. When I first found ‘Mr. Pink’, I contacted the Irish Wildlife Trust straight away, thinking that my name would go down in the annals of Irish wildlife history but unfortunately for me, I was informed that it is not a rare species but it is a very unusual colour, which makes it a very rare, interesting and strange find. It’s colour, in terms of percentage in normal Meadow Grasshoppers is less than one percent. Most grasshopper species in Ireland are greenish-brown in colour, but some have genetics that can make them pink or purple-red. It is called erythrism, which is an unusual and little-understood genetic mutation caused by a recessive gene similar to that which affects albino animals. The combination of red hair and freckles in humans is thought to be a form of erythrism, too. These grasshoppers tend not to make it to adulthood or survive for long in the wild as predators easily spot them, so it was a treat for me to see and photograph a grasshopper as beautiful as this one. I suppose if it was found in a field of pink flowers, this Pink Grasshopper would have a distinct advantage. PS: this photograph was voted the Irish National Winner in the 2015 Sony World Photography Awards and also graced the cover of the Irish Wildlife Magazine.
The Dragonfly and Damselfly are insects, they are not flies. They can hover in mid air and eat other insects by catching them as they fly. There are 3 parts to their bodies: head, thorax and long thin abdomens. They have 3 pairs of jointed legs and 2 pairs of transparent wings. What are the differences between them? Dragonflies and damselflies are often mistaken for each other because they appear to be quite similar. However, when resting, damselflies hold their wings together above the body, while dragonflies hold their wings flat. The back wing of the dragonfly is broader near where it joins onto the body. Damselfly eyes are further apart than those of a dragonfly. Damselflies are usually smaller than dragonflies. Dragonflies can fly at 40 kilometers per hour whereas Damselflies fly more slowly.