Invertebrates are animals without a backbone – for example, slugs and snails, butterflies, moths, worms, insects and spiders. We don’t cover them all here, but there are some notable invertebrate species in the uplands that are worth keeping an eye out for.
Wetland habitats such as blanket bogs and wet heath attract predatory insects like dragonflies and damselflies. You’re most likely to see them in their adult form which may last only a few days or weeks, and as adults, they mostly eat smaller insects. However, these fascinating creatures live most of their life (from 1 to 5 years, depending on the species) as aquatic nymphs, feeding on small underwater invertebrates, tadpoles, and even small fish!
Species Distribution Maps courtesy of the National Biodiversity Data Centre
Common Hawker Dragonfly
Common Hawker Dragonfly
Irish Name: Seabhcaí an Phortaigh
The Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea) is a large, common dragonfly of about 74mm in length with a wingspan of 95mm that you can often see in flight from June to October. It breeds in small acidic pools of water, frequenting bogs, grasslands and heaths. Males have black abdomens, and females mostly brown; both have pairs of turquoise and yellow spots along the length of their abdomen.
Common Darter Dragonfly
Irish Name: Sciobaire Coiteann
The Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) is a widespread dragonfly 37mm in length and with a wingspan of 58mm. Females and immature males are yellowish-brown, and mature males are a more vibrant orangey-red colour. They may forage quite far from their breeding sites, which in the uplands tend to be in wetland areas such as bog pools and streams. They will be on the wing from June to October.
Black Darter Dragonfly
Irish Name: Sciobaire Dubh
Rare in the uplands, our only black dragonfly is the Black Darter (Sympetrum danae). It is less widespread than the Common Darter, and almost entirely absent from much of the southeast of the country. They can be sighted on the wing in heath and bogs from June to October.
They have a wingspan of 46mm, and are 29mm to 34mm in length with black legs and wing spots; males have yellow spots on the side of their black abdomens. The Black Darter holds its wings forward when not in flight in a similar manner to the Keeled Skimmer.
Keeled Skimmer Dragonfly
Irish Name: Scimire na Sruthlán
The Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) dragonfly is about 42mm in length, with a wingspan of 60mm. Males have powder blue abdomens. The females are yellowish brown, getting darker brown as they age. Keeled Skimmers hold their wings out in a forward position when resting. They can be commonly seen in the uplands to the southwest, Connemara and Wicklow, usually in flight from late May to September. Look for them over flushes (areas where water runs over the ground) and shallow pools in wet heaths and bogs.
Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
Irish Name: Earr-rua an Earraigh
The Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) is as its name suggests, a large damselfly of between 33mm and 36mm in length with a wingspan of 48mm and a bright red body with variable black banding on the abdomen. It has black legs, and dark wing spots (called pterostigma) that help with gliding.
When resting, like other damselflies the Large Red Damselfly holds its wings closed along the length of its body. It can be found in most wetland habitats in the uplands, but tends to avoid fast-moving water – look for it in bogs and wet heath where you may spot it in flight from April to August.
Irish Name: Fritileán Réisc
Ireland’s only protected invertebrate species, the Marsh Fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia) has a dark body and a mosaic of creamy orange, yellow and brown markings on the upper side of its wings. The hindwings have a whitish checkered border along the rear edge, and its clubbed antennae are a vibrant orangey yellow. With a wingspan of between 42mm and 48mm, it is smaller than most fritillaries.
Found across Ireland, the Marsh Fritillary prefers bogs and marshy habitats. In the uplands, it can be seen in grasslands, wet heath and blanket bog areas and you may see it on the wing from early May to late June or July. Its main food plant is Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), and you will likely not see the Marsh Fritillary in areas where this plant is absent.
Irish Name: Stiallach Uaine
Unlike most butterflies, the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) holds its wings closed when at rest. Ireland’s only green butterfly, it has metallic green underwings with brown cord outer edging, and brown upper wings.
The Green Hairstreak is quite a small butterfly, with a wingspan of between 27 mm and 34 mm. Adults can be seen in flight from May to June in upland areas of heath, moors, and woodland edges, but their size and colouring can make them difficult to spot. Favourite foodplants include gorse, broom, bird’s foot trefoil, heathers, and blackthorn.
Irish Name: Impire
The emporer moth (Saturnia Pavonia) is a light brown day-flying moth, that can easily be mistaken for a butterfly because of its size and colouring. Females are larger than males, and their wingspan can reach up to 41mm. Each wing displaying an “eye” in the centre.
The forewings have a pink line above the eye and whitish band edging the bottom of the forewing, while the hindwings are more orange in colour. Females are generally a duller grey colour. Emperor Moths prefer scrub areas, bogs and heathland, and can usually be seen in flight from April to May. Adult males do not eat, as their sole purpose is to mate. The females produce a pheromone which males can pick up from as much as a kilometre away due to their feathery antennae.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service funded the development of the Irish Uplands Forum Upland Biodiversity webpages through the Peatlands Community Engagement Scheme 2023.