Midnight perambulations of woodlice and snake millipedes

Last Monday, as I left the house for a late night walk, a hundred or more woodlice were climbing the walls outside my front door. 

LWoodlice scaling the walls at night are a recent phenomenon. Previously, it was snake millipedes. Are they afraid they’ll be drowned in the prodigious rains of this summer?

The black snake millipedes, averaging an inch in length, are less frequent now, and never appear in the thousands that they did some years ago. I wrote about them once, suggesting that we might be on an ancient millipede migration route and that, driven by some arcane compulsion, they climbed over the house rather than crawled around it.

Michael Viney wrote about them in his excellent Irish Times column sympathising with my alarm, as he was experiencing a similar invasion in Co Mayo. Were they the same West Cork millipede horde, and had taken three years to crawl all their way to the Connacht?

Continuing my midnight ramble, and strolling along the village sea front, my attention was taken by a tall, wooden streetlight pole glistening as if it was alive. And, indeed it was. Sandhoppers, like miniature lobsters complete with waving antennae, were scaling the post by the dozens, and hopping about the footpath underfoot. The pole was 10m away from the high-tide mark; they were also on a pole across the road, even farther from the sea.

On a lamp post a little way along, legions of woodlice were basking in the glow, 3m above my head. And, finally, I came on a pole shellaced half way up with congregations of earwigs. They shone like varnish, socialising in the light. The bulb was far too high above them to be providing warmth. The light alone must have been the draw, that, or some prescience that a tidal wave was about to engulf the village.

The street itself (there is only one) was deserted, not a soul or a cat or dog stirring. While human communities snored, insect communities partied, enjoying hours of flood-lit, multi-legged pole-dancing it would seem.

No expert has yet come forward to debunk or confirm my assertion that the mining bees I came across on the Great Blasket island and wrote about last week were not a listed Irish species. I will investigate further.

Sand mining is the divine right of mining bees but is prohibited by law for humans. However, when in Kerry, I found myself face-down on Castlegregory Strand trying to dig out the wheels of our car, which had become stuck down to hubcap level.

I succeed in jacking up the wheel and put stones underneath it, while my industrious wife laid a pavement of flat stones behind. No good! The wheel spun, the stones scattered, and I was back, once more, lying face down and sand mining.

A Kerry farmer with a tractor was our salvation. He told me he had towed six cars off the beach and sand paths leading to it this summer. Were the owners foreigners? I enquired. No, he said, they were mostly Irish.

Knowing the Kerry people’s reputation for cuteness, I didn’t dare tell him that I was born in Kerry, but had, nevertheless been stupid enough to get stuck. However, my Kerry tenure lasted only two years, clearly not long enough for me to develop the legendary smarts.

Apropos rare bees, and rare sandhopper behaviour, a local fisherman, Brian O’Donovan, showed me an unknown seaweed still new and happily rare to our local bay. I consulted Matt Murphy of the Sherkin Island Marine Station, where an expert identified it as Sargassum muticum commonly known as the Japanese wireweed, an invasive brown seaweed first discovered in 1995 at Strangford Lough, Co Down, near an oyster farm. In Japanese waters, it is small and innocuous but elsewhere is highly invasive and can reach 16m in length. Now present on almost all Irish coasts, it threatens rare Lusitanian seaweeds and sea urchin species. It reduces the light reaching native marine flora and fauna but may gradually become less aggressive and invasive, as it has elsewhere.

Japanese knotweed, and now Japanese wireweed, both troublesome invaders! But the most outstanding (and beautiful) invader I saw everywhere in Dingle was montbretia, corridors of bright orange verging the roads for hundreds of metres, blanketing wastelands in gold, meanwhile subsuming purple loosestrife, hemp agrimony and meadowsweet.

Montbretia is lovely when in flower, not so lovely as it dies away. It is consuming our garden. Time for a domestic montbretia cull!


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