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Clicks, ricks, bumbles, damsels, beauties and lovers

I returned home on Sunday night from a four-day entomological expedition to The Mullet, County Mayo. Thanks to Dave Allen for including me in the team for this trip and thanks to The Heritage Council (Ireland) for financial assistance. After a 5-hour drive from Belfast, we arrived on Thursday in a land of machair grassland, lakes and hay meadows. Relatively few entomologists have worked this part of the world but it is already known as the only area in Ireland for the click beetle Selatosomus melancholicus, and a stronghold for the sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa, otherwise known in Ireland only from The Raven, Co. Wexford. What else awaits discovery out there?

I have been to The Mullet once before, on a similar expedition in late June 2007. On that occasion, resident naturalist Dave Suddaby guided us to a couple of the best spots for the click beetle, only to find the dunes littered with their corpses. This is a beetle which emerges in considerable numbers but doesn’t live for very long. I was, quite frankly, gutted. Fingers were crossed that the earlier dates of this year’s trip (7 – 10 June) and the late spring would give us a better chance of seeing them alive.

The first one I found at Annagh dunes on 7th in pouring rain … was dead. But then Sudds found a live one, and there was rejoicing.

One of the survivors: a living Selatosomus melancholicus.

We eventually tallied 21 dead click beetles to 4 live ones. This beetle does not occur in Britain, and in France it is restricted to the Alps and Pyrenees. Whether the population on The Mullet is native, or an ancient introduction is unclear – but either explanation is pretty mind-boggling.

Despite the rain, sand wasps were still out and about, hunting caterpillars.

Sand wasp Ammophila sabulosa is fairly common in England but a Mullet speciality in Ireland.

Belted Beauty Lycia zonaria caterpillar. These are abundant in the dunes and provide the main prey for Ammophila sabulosa.

We endured some terrible weather for the first couple of days though it did blow in a summer plumaged Long-tailed Skua. The wind and rain eased on Friday evening and Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. Sudds found a Great Yellow Bumblebee Bombus distinguendus on Red Clover in the garden of our B&B (Léim Siar, highly recommended), which was to be the first of many. Though I never succeeded in photographing any of them!

We worked some meadows near Termoncarragh Lough, with more Bombus distinguendus, and a fly-past from a pair of Chough. A Marsh Pug here was probably the best macro-moth discovery of the trip. Roy Anderson decided to try sieving one of the hay-ricks which turned out to be seething with Atomaria, ptiliids and all manner of other beetles. Bells started ringing in my head about the hay-rick beetle fauna – there are several species which were seemingly common in the days before combine-harvesters and silage but are now extinct or vanishingly rare. Maybe they could survive out in west Mayo, where Corncrakes and Great Yellow Bumblebees also cling on? Well I filled my pooter with a lot of LBJs but it will need several winter days at the microscope before I know what I’ve caught!

Hay ricks full of beetles

We ended the day listening to Corncrakes after dusk in beautifully still conditions.

Sunday’s fieldwork plans were mucked up by a slow puncture on Dave’s truck but when we did collect the moth traps, there were still very few moths. I was pleased to see an adult Pod Lover Hadena perplexa capsophila and Red-shanked Carder Bee Bombus ruderarius before we set off back.

Pod Lover

A terrible photo of Bombus ruderarius but it does at least show the red hairs on the pollen basket.

Just after breakfast I grabbed some photos of a bumblebee in the garden of our B&B. At the time I thought it might be one of the cuckoos (formerly in genus Psithyrus) as it looked quite shiny. On examining the photos back home I thought it was probably a Shrill Carder Bee Bombus sylvarum, which would be a good find. However, Mike Edwards reckons it is just a worn individual of one of the brown carder bees (pascuorum or muscorum) and that the apparent black hair-band across the thorax is just a bald patch.

Bombus sylvarum lookalike

Bombus sylvarum lookalike

Last stop before I was dropped at the airport was Cullentra Lough, a beautiful little lough just off the main A4 road east of Fivemiletown at H 476 474. It’s a good spot for Irish Damselfly Coenagrion lunulatum (and the only place I’ve ever seen it). We found just the one on this visit after checking through loads of Common Blues Enallagma, Variables Coenagrion pulchellum and Azures C. puella.

Irish Damselfly Coenagrion lunulatum


2 Comments

  1. John Fogarty says:

    Very much enjoyed your report ,you were unlucky with the weather !.Still you managed to find some interesting things ,I am following bees at moment hugely interesting (would agree your lookalike is a worn B.pascourum by the way )B. ruderarius and B,distinguendus were great finds .Your comment on the fauna of hayricks is very true ,as a child bringing home hay the trailer afterwards would seeth with beetles ,caterpillars etc the bottom of a silage trailer is just polished steel !

  2. Tom eccles says:

    ‘Interested to hear of your encounnter with Selatosomus melancholicus. I once came accross it in abundance in a damp meadow in The Auvergne, near Condat. The place was also heaving with smooth snakes!

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