On the lookout for the Kerry slug

THE little-known Kerry slug, which hit the headlines two years ago after getting in the way of a proposed bypass road in Ballyvourney, Co Cork, is about to get back in the news.

In Ireland, the slug is found only in west Cork and Kerry, as far as is known, and it is hoped the survey, being conducted by Dr Rory McDonnell, of University College Galway, will determine if it is also present in other parts of the country.

Dr McDonnell described the slug as an internationally important invertebrate, and aims to produce an up-to-date distribution map. In Ireland, there are five 10km grid squares where the species has not been recorded since pre-1950, and other areas where the last records are pre-1980.

“This will be the first full survey in 30 years and we’re asking people to be the lookout for the slug,” said Dr McDonnell, who is starting work in the Glengarriff area this week.

“It comes out to feed on damp, dreary, overcast days and feeds on lichen mosses on tree trunks, and on red sandstone boulders,” Dr McDonnell said.

During sunny, warm weather the slug takes refuge under mosses, in cracks on boulders, and behind the vegetation at the base of sandstone rocks. Surveys at dawn, dusk, and during the night in Spain have also proved successful.

A protected species under EU legislation, the slug was first discovered beside Caragh Lake, in Co Kerry, in 1842. Seven special areas of conservation (SACs) have been designated for the protection of the species.

It is an easily recognisable, spotted, medium-sized slug, up to nine centimetres in length, and is unlikely to be confused with any other species. It can be coloured brown with yellow spots, or black with white spots. Unlike many other slug species, the Kerry slug is not regarded as a pest and is associated with wild habitats away from humans.

“You won’t find it in a vegetable patch,” Dr McDonnell, who has always had a special interest in insects and invertebrates, said.

The slug is also found in Spain and Portugal. The species has been reported from France, though its presence has never been confirmed there.

Here, it is found in two habitat types: oak-dominated woodland and wild, open moor, or blanket bog. Within these habitats, it is only present if there are sandstone outcrops and boulders, largely bare of vegetation except for lichens, mosses and liverworts, on which the species feeds.

Most people heard of the Kerry slug for the first time two years ago, when it was found on the route of a planned bypass road at the Cascade Wood site, near Ballyvourney. Environment Minister John Gormley then agreed to extend a conservation area, so that the site could be saved. That would call for a re-routing of a small section of the road.

But the road, which would have been part of the 21km Macroom bypass project, has been shelved because of budgetary cutbacks. So, slug is safe for a few more years, at least.

The cascade site also contains old oak, which is now rare in Ireland, and seven of Ireland’s 10 species of bat have also been recorded as foraging or commuting on site.

For further information on the survey, log on to www.kerryslug.com.

Meanwhile, Christy Dorgan, from Fermoy, Co Cork, has published a delightful book on Irish birds, illustrated in full colour and also featuring photographs of nests and eggs of various species.

Almost 70 species are featured in Irish Birds, their Nests and Eggs, with plenty of information on each. An eagle, back in the news with reintroduction projects in Kerry and Donegal, is on the front cover. Inside, there’s a picture of a spotted eagle, shot in a field near Youghal, Co Cork, in 1845, and now in the Natural History Museum, in Dublin.

Another threatened species to attract attention in recent years, the hen harrier, is also featured. Christy says he came across a pair with fledged chicks in the Conna area of Co Cork, in July of last year. “This was the first evidence since the 1970s of hen harriers breeding in east Cork,” he said.

Christy said north Cork is a stronghold of the bird, with about eight pairs in the Nagle Mountains.

Its haunts include moorland, hillsides, marshes and open wastes. Four to six eggs are usually laid in April, or early May.

Keeping an eagle eye on bird life in his native county, Christy also reports that fish-eating Osprey have been seen in lagoons, near the Mallow sugar factory, and in the Blackwater, near Cappoquin. “These are probably birds of passage from their wintering grounds in Africa, on their way to breeding grounds in Scotland, or northern Europe,” he said.

This is an ideal handbook for young and old, with plenty of information and photographs that will help readers to easily identify birds on sight.

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