Wetlands Ireland

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Zooplankton

Under the surface of the water in the small freshwater wetlands there is an unbelievable diversity of life. There are hundreds and sometimes thousands of different species of animals and plants to be found there. Among the types of animals there, you can find insects, molluscs, worms, crustaceans, beetles and even fish – like sticklebacks, and tiny floating animals called zooplankton.  Some of these animals like to live in the water column, some like to crawl about on the stems of the plants growing out of the bottom of the wetland and some others like to live their lives in the muddy substrate on the floor of the wetland.

Daphnia PulexThere are many weird animals living in the wetlands, especially where there is standing water for most parts of the year. The common water flea, Daphnia pulex is a prolific inhabitant of our wetlands and lakes and its population explodes in May and June as they take advantage of warmer temperatures and the easier availability of food such as plankton and bits of organic matter floating in the water. However, and unfortunately for the poor old Daphnia, when their numbers increase sharply, other higher animals that like to eat daphnia (like carnivorous larvae, small fish, newts and small frogs) also increase in number and they keep the numbers of Daphnia in check.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

The Red Darter, common in the Irish wetlands in July & August

The Red Darter, common in the Irish wetlands in July & August

Because we’re now in late Spring and early summer, we want to bring you some seasonal information about the Dragonflies and Damselflies. The very cold spring is likely to have delayed the emergence of the dragonflies and damselflies somewhat in 2013. Many of the, thirty or so, species that we expect to see in Ireland come up on the wing in July and August, so there is still time for you to get out there and see some during this summer season.

If you want to see pictures of the different types of dragonflies that are found in Ireland, as well as information on which months they are on the wing, take a look at this link.

The common reed (Phragmites australis)

common reedis very common in the small freshwater wetlands in Ireland. In mid-summer the reeds form tall, dense ‘stands’ of vegetation which provide very effective cover for birds and other wildlife. Sometimes the reeds can grow up to 19 feet high (more than three times the height of an average person). This year (2013) the emergence of the new shoot on the common reeds is very late because of the cold spring. If you are interested in taking a look at the common reeds, you should be able to observe them ‘in-leaf’ from now up until next November. After the leaves die, the tall stems remain standing and they survive to produce new leaves next year. At first sight you might think that the reeds are not all that interesting. However, from a heritage perspective reeds which grew in the freshwater wetlands, and indeed in the brackish wetlands near the coast provided early settlers on this island with a very crucial raw material – thatch for the early houses, without which people could not have sheltered from the cold and the rain. Without ready access to this amazing building material, early settlers would have had a difficult problem finding an alternative material to roof their huts with.

reed roofThe picture on the right shows how the common reed was used to roof the huts and houses built by the early settlers in Ireland. This particular house is part of the interpretative display at the Irish National Heritage Park (Wexford, Ireland). You can also see large stands of the common reed growing there, on the edges of the Slaney River. A beautiful wetland walkway is maintained at the Heritage Park, and if you are in the locality it’s well worth a look. (Check out the website: www.inhp.com). During May & June the wetland walk is full of beautiful wild flowers and an hour or two there would do your heart-good!

Taken during the first week of May 2013, and shows the first green shoots of new leaves on the reeds at the Raven in Wexford.

Taken during the first week of May 2013, and shows the first green shoots of new leaves on the reeds at the Raven in Wexford.

The small wetland looks during the winter when the reeds are dormant.

The small wetland looks during the winter when the reeds are dormant.

The small wetlands attract and provide homes and breeding grounds for many birds. Many of the birds in the wetlands are not commonly found near our homes or in the town, so it’s a real pleasure to sit quietly neat the wetland and watch the birds, just for fun!