In the picture at Cabragh Wetlands
Cabragh has been a huge attraction for photographers with the late Sean Maher capturing our own starling murmuration on video a number of years ago.
What a pleasant surprise to see Cabragh Wetlands included in the flagship RTE programme on St. Patrick’s Day with Daithí and Maura.
In a year when marching bands, giant puppets and all the razzamatazz of community Ireland was missing, up popped Larry Doherty with a prize winning photograph of a ladybird, the result of many hours of visits to Cabragh to indulge his hobby of macro photography.
In a year that was dominated by the stunning image by James Crombie of a massive starling murmuration over Lough Ennel, this national exposure lifted all our spirits. Larry’s family were no strangers to Cabragh and his father who passed away recently, suaimhneas síoraí dó, would have been extremely proud. For many years Larry Senr. attended the monthly music night at Cabragh. An excellent mouth organ player, he was also a great raconteur and lit up many a night with his jokes and his stories. He was also an excellent craftsman using vernacular material from Killough working mainly with hazel, a slot now occupied by Michael Walsh from the Heath.
Cabragh has been a huge attraction for photographers with the late Sean Maher capturing our own starling murmuration on video a number of years ago. Our resident photographer and producer of calendars, DVD covers and other wonderful material, Eamon Brennan, was the first to congratulate Larry. Thurles Camera Club members Jim Troy, Jim Finn, Sadie Flanagan, Neil Ryan and many others have presented prize winning images from Cabragh along with George Willoughby, John Cash and other great photographers.
Photography has been part and parcel of that slow measured enjoyment of nature at Cabragh and now new names like Larry Doherty, Julie Butler and Sammon are coming to the fore.
The subject of the prize winning photograph was a ladybird on a leaf, an image that tugs at the heartstrings particularly after a long winter. The familiar black and red ladybird is most people’s favourite beetle. In the middle ages it was associated with the Virgin Mary and called “beetle of Our Lady” and the present day names are derived from that medieval title. They are welcomed by farmer and gardener alike for their valuable work in keeping down aphids.
The colouring of most insects is designed to help them remain concealed from predators but the bright markings on ladybirds make them startlingly conspicuous. This coloration is a protective device. They have a very unpleasant taste and they advertise this fact through their strong colours. If you handle a ladybird you will find that it exudes a few drops of yellow strong- smelling liquid – actually blood. This is an example of defensive reflex bleeding and is designed to alarm and warn off predators.
There are many different species of ladybirds but the one that you will find almost everywhere – fields, gardens and woods - is the seven spot, which is red with three bold black spots on each wing cover and an extra spot in the centre of its back where the wing cases meet. You may also be able to find two spot and ten spot varieties. They often over winter in communal groups, sheltering beneath loose bark on trees and other protected areas such as leaf litter or stems of dead foliage such as thistles or even in a bug hotel!.
In spring they fly in search of plants such as nettles or rose bushes which are infested with aphids. Here they feed, mate and lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves usually in batches of up to fifty. The larvae, in common with the adults, have a voracious appetite for aphids and after about six weeks they emerge as adults.
They are generally known as hibernators although technically they only remain dormant as they do not regulate their own body temperature. They sleep in large groups. In a mild winter up to 90% of dormant ladybirds will survive. Once they awaken in spring, some will have been asleep for eight months.
The female begins to mate with many different males, stores all the sperm in a single organ and when the time comes, releases all at the same time. A hundred metre dash to the eggs ensures that only the best win. Their deep secret is that adult and larval ladybirds can be cannibalistic especially among the larvae when there are not enough aphids to keep all the young fed. There is more behind Pearse’s “red ladybird upon a stalk” than meets the eye.
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Stay safe, stay at home, hold firm. Slán go fóill.