Shining a light on the secret life of the Irish badger
The study considers DNA clues to “an Atlantic fringe element” already found in Irish mammals, such as the pygmy shrew and pine marten. While the hair, grease and meat of badgers could have earned them a place in the boats of prospecting Neolithic Spaniards, the team could find no evidence for this. Securely dated evidence for badgers in Ireland is absent until medieval times, yet, perhaps remarkably, the team entertains the chance that badgers could have colonised Ireland naturally – this from land to the southwest, exposed in the Ice Age.
However it arrived, it seems the Irish badger could be unique in its inheritance. Indeed, the paper recommends “that future bovine TB culls in Ireland should carefully consider the genetic repercussions to Ireland’s unique fauna”. It points to the differences in diet, behaviour and tuberculosis levels between Irish and British badgers that may be influenced by their genes.
All this comes at a crucial point in Ireland’s bovine TB control, as the policy of badger culling in “hot spot” areas, begun in 1989, gives way to the committed use of vaccinating baits. Effective baits carrying a modified BCG vaccine have taken more than a decade to develop and test.
Field trials of their impact on about 300 badgers living in setts across 755sq km of Co Kilkenny began in 2009 and are due to conclude this year.
The baits needed a flavour irresistible to badgers. Aniseed, apple, curry, fish, garlic, peanut and strawberry were all tested in the field. Carob and cocoa powder are the most eagerly gobbled up, as a chocolate-covered badger bar.
Eye on nature
I discovered a brownish worm, about six inches long, that looked like a length of thread. When disturbed it tried to coil itself.
Anna O’Grady, Swords, Co Dublin
From the photograph you sent, the worm is a nematode, Mermis nigrescens, also called a thunder or rain worm. It normally lives in the soil and comes out in heavy rain.
I had a wasp busily constructing a nest in my garden shed. After a few days I noticed that the newer parts of the nest were turquoise, much the same colour as the slug bait, and no sign of the wasp since then.
Siobhán O’Keeffe, Greenhills, Dublin
The turquoise probably came from coloured cardboard or old, painted wood that the wasps stripped and masticated to make the paper for their nest.
It was a bad week for my fledglings – lost a baby robin to a window, a blue tit to a bad fall and then a baby cuckoo. (I think my Labrador may have caught it but not enough evidence to convict.)
Brendan O’Sullivan, Damhros, Connemara
Lovely photographs of a poplar hawkmoth received from Maya Homburger in Inistioge, Co Kilkenny, and of a female emperor moth from Con O’Halloran in Bunclody, Co Wexford.
Michael Viney welcomes observations at Thallabawn, Carrowniskey PO, Westport, Co Mayo, or email email@example.com. Please include a postal address