Life

Take on Nature: Beware of Ireland's deadliest species

It's not bears nor wolves but rather bulls that pose the greatest threat to ramblers in the Irish countryside

IRELAND'S most deadly species does not prowl our forests or lie waiting in grasslands, its teeth glinting in the sun light as it waits to pounce.

We are not an island where the appearance of a fin poking through the waves signals terror and dramatic cello music, or where giant tentacles grab hapless fishermen from their boats.

The last wolf in Ireland is believed to have been killed in 1786 in Co Carlow after attacking sheep; however, wolves had been hunted with a bounty for kills for more than 150 years before that.

Bears have been extinct in Ireland for at least 3,000 years although there is some suggestion in folklore that they may have survived into the very early Christian era.

You can see the bones of an Irish bear in the Aillwee Cave in the Burren in Co Clare, where the species dug out hibernation pits.

And snakes, as we all know, were driven out by St Patrick, more than 1,500 years ago, although it is unlikely that Ireland ever had any in the first place.

Far more likely is the risk of running into a bull while trying to take a shortcut across a field. It is a hazard that country walkers should be aware of, although my last encounter was on a clifftop path where the bull should not have been.

It was an eyeball-to-eyeball moment which involved me trying to hypnotise the beast and replicate the moves made by the female bullfighter in that Pedro Almodovar movie, until I remembered that she had been gored to death.

The bull stood before me, waves crashed on to rocks 20 feet below on my right, to my left was a wire fence, behind which the bull should have been spreading his love among the happily grazing cows.

My only option was to do what I have been often accused of – talk bull while edging slowly backwards, keeping my eyes fixed on the beast and hoping I didn't step off the path and over the edge of the cliff. Talking bull entailed muttering appeals to just take it easy and stay where you are in low, soothing and hopefully hypnotic voice.

Needless to say the fact that I am able to retell this tale is evidence that I survived the drama and lived to talk bull for another day.

Our most deadly species is in fact a flesh-eating plant that lurks in bogland and damp mountain crevices. I always look out for it on the steep slope that leads from the Trassey Path to the Hares' Gap in the Mournes.

Nestling among black squelching moss, butterwort is actually just a few centimeters across, with six or seven yellow pointed leaves that curl inwards with a long stamen in the centre.

The leaves are sticky and small insects that land on them are trapped and slowly digested by the innocent and fragile looking plant.

OK, it's not exactly a Venus flytrap, but given a few evolutionary shifts, an accidental cross-breeding with a larger plant, global warming and pollution it could mutate into something much bigger.

Watch yourself, the deadly giant, mutant butterwort could be on its way. No bull.

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