The Burren: some invertebrates


This is the third post on a recent six day trip to the Burren in western Ireland with Wildlife Travel. Though I knew a little about the Burren before I began hitting the guide books and the internet – particularly in connection with its high number of orchid species and the Burren Green moth Calamia tridens which in the British Isles is found only in the Burren – nothing prepared me properly for the dramatic hills, the palette of colours, and the wide range of quality habitats found there…


As well as its remarkable plant assemblage, the Burren holds populations of some very interesting insects. This was the first time I’d been to the Burren, so I must acknowledge from the outset that I have no comparative data to verify or refute my personal opinions about how well (or poorly) insects are doing this year (and there seems to be very little collated info online), but there did seem to be surprisingly few invertebrates around.

Butterfly numbers for instance – given the immense number of flowering plants – were very low. We recorded just ten species (including an uncomfirmed sighting of mine from a moving bus that had to be a Wood White – a ‘piece of tissue blowing in the wind’ description would be perfect to describe what I saw). Common Blue and Small Heath were by far the most ‘abundant’ but we saw no more than twenty individuals of each. A few pairs of Small Blue on Inisheer was the only sighting of that species, and apart from several Dingy Skipper (below Slieve Carran and one on Inisheer) and several Green-veined White, most species were seen just once or twice including Small and Large White, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, and a single Brimstone. No Wall Brown, Peacock or Red Admiral were seen. Is that typical? I hope an Irish naturalist might be tempted to comment…

mating common blue butterflies the burren
Pair of Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, Inisheer
(female evidently releasing pheromone to attract the male)

small blue butterfly inisheer
Small Blue Cupido minimus, Inisheer

dingy skipper the burren
Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages, Inisheer

small tortoiseshell the burren
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, Inisheer
(with 7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata – the only ladybird species seen, and abundant on Inisheer)


The Burren is well known for its moths, particularly for the Burren Green Calamia tridens (widespread in temperate Europe in the British Isles it’s found nowhere else, but adults fly in July so wasn’t seen), the Transparent Burnet Zygaena purpuralis sabulosa (this ssp. is more or less confined to the Burren and Inishmor; a second ssp. caledonensis occurs on the Hebridean islands of Skye, Lismore, Kerrera, Mull, Ulva, Eigg, Canna, and Rhum and in a few localities on the Scottish mainland in Kintyre and parts of western Argyllshire [UK Moths), and the now rare micro Scarce Crimson and Gold Pyrausta sanguinalis. The latter occurs only in parts of western Europe but within the British isles is now believed extinct in mainland England and Scotland, and is found at just three sites in Northern Ireland, on the northen tip of the Isle of Man, and in the Burren. We saw just two P. sanguinalis, but the Transparent Burnet is at least relatively common in the Burren, and at Fanore Sands we found at least twenty crawling up short grasses after a rain shower.

Other moths seen include the nationally scarce Dew Moth Setina irrorella (a rare moth which I initially identified as the common Buff Ermine, we found two - one at Fanore and one at Lough Gealáin), 6-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae (several locations but usually singly), Mother Shipton (seen twice), Common Heath, Yellow Shell, a surprisingly [to me anyway] dark-banded male Grass Wave, and numerous micros I’m still trying to identify (mainly Crambus-type veneers) – though the very distinctive Nettle-tap Moth was a little less taxing. A male Ghost Moth was a surprise find on Inisheer, where it posed well after landing on one of our team’s shirt! Lastly, a Lime-speck Pug caterpillar was found on a Bloody Cranesbill Geranium sanguineum at Lough Bunny.


Dew Moth the burren
Dew Moth Setina irrorella, Lough Gealáin


pyrausta sanguinalis the burren
Scarce Crimson and Gold Pyrausta sanguinalis, Lough Gealáin

transparent burnet the burren

transparent burnet the burren
Transparent Burnet Zygaena purpuralis, Fanore

6-spot burnet the burren
6-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae, Poll Salach

male common heath the burren
Male Common Heath Ematurga atomaria, Lough Gealáin

female common heath the burren
Female Common Heath Ematurga atomaria, Lough Gealáin

Grass Wave the burren
Male Grass Wave Perconia strigillaria, Lough Gealáin

mother shipton the burren
Mother Shipton Callistege mi
(so named because the wing markings – as you look inwards from the edge of the wing towards the abdomen – ‘resemble’ a renowned English soothsayer’s face)

yellow shell the burren
Yellow Shell Camptogramma bilineata, Inisheer

male ghost moth the burren
Male Ghost Moth Hepialus humuli, Inisheer

Anthophila fabriciana the burren
Nettle-tap Moth Anthophila fabriciana, Inisheer

lime-speck pug caterpillar the burren
Lime-speck Pug Eupithecia centaureata caterpillar, Lough Bunny


Another group I was interested to look for was the Odonata – the dragon- and damselfies. We were a little early for some species (eg Brown Hawker) but in the end we found seven species. Nothing too unusual, but what we did see appeared very fresh and had mostly almost certainly just emerged – eg the Hairy Dragonfly Brachytron pratense, Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum, and Four-spotted Chasers Libellula quadrimaculata posted below. The best single site was a small pond just below the renowned Poulnabrone Dolmen. Here we found Azure, Blue-tailed, and Large Red Damselflies as well as the very obliging quadrimaculata. Whilst I didn’t see them at Poulnabrone, Common Blue Damselfies were very common around the edge of Lough Bunny.


hairy dragonfly the burren

hairy dragonfly the burren
Hairy Dragonfly Brachytron pratense, the garden of ‘Cassidy’s’ pub!

black-tailed skimmer the burren
Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum, Lough Bunny

four spotted chaser the burren
Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata, Poulnabrone

azure damselfly the burren
Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella, Poulnabrone

Blue-tailed damselfly the burren
Female Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans, Poulnabrone


Given the large number of hoverflies I’d been seeing at Great Chalfield in the run up to this trip I’d hoped to continue my ‘education’ in Ireland, but – like the butterflies – there really didn’t seem to be many around. The most numerous was Helophilus pendulus (often called the ‘Sun Hoverfly‘) which was in good numbers in the flower bed outside our B&B in Lisdoonvarna and was seen in other locations in the Burren. The same flower bed held what I’m sure is the large Bog Hoverfly Sericomyia silentis. The excellent pub garden at Cassidy’s (great food and service, fantastic views over a turlough, and – on this occasion – a Cuckoo calling and then overflying us) held Eristalis tenax and E. pertinax. A Rhingia campstris was found walking up one of the coach windows, and a single Eupeodes luniger was by the ‘Hermit’s Well’ in mixed Hazel woodland below Slieve Carran. I’m sure an experienced and specialist entomologist would have identified some of the smaller dark heath/grassland hoverflies I saw, but I’m not quite at that level yet!

I’m not very experienced (yet) with the Diptera as a whole, but Scathophaga stercoraria (the Common Yellow Dung Fly) was ubiquitous, and we saw fair numbers of what appears to be two Rhagio Snipe Fly species: Rhagio scolopaceus and R. vitripennis. I also found another Snipe Fly speciesChrysopilus cristatus, several times. In rank grassland behind the Burren Centre in Kilfenora I found several Chloromyia formosa (the soldier fly, Broad Centurion) and what appears to be the widespread sawfly Tenthredo temula. Another interesting sighting was the picture-winged fly Herina frondescentiae.


helophilus pendulus the burren
Helophilus pendulus, Lisdoonvarna

sericomyia silentis the burren
Bog Hoverfly Sericomyia silentis, Lisdoonvarna

Eupeodes luniger the burren
Eupeodes luniger, Slieve Carran

Herina frondescentiae the burren
Herina frondescentiae, Lough Gealáin

Chloromyia formosa the burren
Male Chloromyia formosa, Kilfenora

Rhagio scolopaceus the burren
Snipe-fly Rhagio scolopaceus, Kilfenora

Chrysopilus cristatus the burren
A male Snipe-fly Chrysopilus cristatus, Kilfenora

Tenthredo mesomela the burren
Possible Tenthredo mesomela, Kilfenora


A few other notable observations include the surprising (given the location) finding of two individuals – separated by about 100m – of the striking longhorn beetle Leptura quadrifasciata at Lough Gealáin. Less surpising were a few soldier beetles I’m still hoping to put a name to, a Click Beetle, and a Garden Chafer – all of which were found in the excellent habitat below Slieve Carran. Other bits and pieces included a Water Scorpion stalking tadpoles (of Common Frog Rana temporaria) in the pond at Poulnabrone (where we also recorded Smooth Newt Lissotriton vulgaris, a Lacehopper which Dr Alan Stewart of the Auchenorrhyncha Recording Scheme for Britain & Ireland kindly confirms is clearly a Cixiidae but can’t say with certainty of which species as the photo isn’t sharp enough (next time I’ll know what to look for and focus in on), and a single Common Groundhopper that jumped onto my rucksack and hooped off before I could get much more than a record shot. Finally – and something I may have entirely wrong – is the rather unnatural-looking gall (resembling a burnt hand, I thought at the time) produced on hawthorn by the tiny aphids of the Dysaphis crataegi group.


leptura quadrifasciata the burren
The longhorn beetle Leptura quadrifasciata, Lough Gealáin

garden chafer the burren
Garden Chafer Phyllopertha horticola, Slieve Carran

common groundhopper the burren
Common Groundhopper Tetrix undulata, Lough Gealáin

lacehopper the burren
Lacehopper sp Cixiidae sp, Lough Gealáin

water scorpion the burren
Water Scorpion Nepa cinerea, Poulnabrone

Dysaphis crataegi group the burren
Gall of Dysaphis crataegi group on Hawthorn, Lough Bunny


It’s a dread word that – unidentified – but as I’m rapidly discovering, identification without a specimen and a microscope is all but impossible with many species of insects. Especially to a newbie like me.

However, based on the facts that the Burren must be way out of the normal range of some confusion species and that there are likely less species in total in one area of western Ireland than in the British Isles as a whole, perhaps someone more knowledgeable than me might like to debate possible IDs of the following:

possible Amblyteles armatorious the burren
Possibly Amblyteles armatorious?, Kilfenora

sawfly the burren
Sawfly sp Tenthredo sp
(confirmed by Andrew Halstead ‘Sawfly’ Yahoo group), Kilfenora

stonefly the burren
Stonefly sp, Lough Bunny

mason wasp the burren
Mason Wasp Eumeninae sp, Caherconell Stone Fort


All photos copyright Charlie Moores/Talking Naturally 2012


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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

One Comment

  1. Douglas says:

    Great photos!

    There is one ID error though, the photo labelled ‘Buff Ermine’ is actually something far more interesting. It’s the nationally scarce Dew Moth (Setina irrorella).

    Don’t know about its status in the Burren but be sure to send the record to relevant people.

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