Mammals of Stephenstown Pond

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The secretive nature of many mammals makes it difficult to observe them. However, the following may be present when you visit Stephenstown Pond, Knockbridge, outside Dundalk, County Louth.

One of our most common Mammals is the Fox (Vulpes vulpes). Foxes are found in a variety of habitats throughout Ireland, and visit the Pond area as they forage by night. They are very resourceful animals and will take whatever food is available, scavenging from carcasses or killing small mammals such as Rabbits, Rats, and young Hares. In Summer, they catch large numbers of beetles, and in Autumn feed on fruit. A Fox looks at its best from October to January when its coat is thick and full. For most of the Summer it undergoes a moult. Its adaptability and alertness makes the Fox one of Ireland's most successful animals.

Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) are immediately recognizable by their protective spiny coats. If disturbed they will curl up into a ball exposing only their prickly spines. As with other nocturnal creatures, Hedgehogs are rarely seen during daylight hours, but may be seen at dusk or dawn as they search for food. You may be lucky enough to see a young animal by day. Beetles, Caterpillars, and Earthworms make up most of the diet of a Hedgehog. It will also eat Slugs, Snails and Carrion. When such foods are scarce in Winter the Hedgehog hibernates in a nest of leaves and grasses. During this Winter sleep, it will live off the reserves of fat built up during the Autumn.

Slim, speedy, and savage, the Stoat (Mustela erminea) is one of the fiercest predators. It is active by day and night seeking its prey of Rabbits, small mammals, and birds. Its black tail-tip and light brown flanks easily distinguish it.

The Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) is without doubt our most noxious pest, transmitting diseases. A Rat is a rodent; a word derived form the Latin 'rodere'. Meaning 'to gnaw'. The Brown Rat will eat anything and often populations can build to pest proportions around farms, where there is plenty of stored foodstuffs. Numbers are naturally controlled around the pond, and do not pose any hazard.

The Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), or Field Mouse, is probably the most widespread and abundant mammal in Ireland. It forages by night on the Woodland floor, eating a variety of seeds, berries, buds, insects, and snails. It also plays an important part in the woodland food chain, as a source of food for most of the larger mammals and birds of prey.

On the Grassland verges, or scurrying up the trunk of an Oak Tree, the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) delights many visitors to Stephenstown Pond. It is an introduced species, originating in the forests of the eastern United States of America, and feeds on beech-mast, acorns, tree bark, leaves and buds.

The Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus) is Ireland's smallest land mammal. It is easily identified by its long snout and whiskers, which are used to locate prey when hunting. Insects and worms, found under the vegetation on the Woodland and Willow Copse floor, form the bulk of its diet.

No mention of mammals at Stephenstown Pond would be complete without a mention of the two species of Bat found in the area. The Pipistrelle Bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), and Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus) both feed, by night, on insects around the trees and water. While Daubenton's Bat (Myotis daubentoni) has been recorded at Dundalk, there is yet no record at the pond. However, they are thought to be widespread and you may be the first to spot them at Stephenstown Pond.

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