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Constructed at the start of the 14th century the castle that sits at the edge of Ballintober is still something to behold. The high towers and walls almost seem to be held together with ivy, and while once may have been home to the O’Connor family, who ruled over Connaught for several centuries, it is now home to countless insects, birds and all manner of plantlife. Surrounding the castle is a strip of long grass, which has been left to grow wild and provide important cover for mini-beasts like beetles, woodlice, earwigs and earthworm, who all help to cycle organic material and provide food for larger animals. The moat has since filled with vegetation but is still an important body of standing water, supporting insect nymphs (the immature swimming forms of some species), hoverflies, damselflies and the impressive dragonfly, whose four wings and 360O vision make it one of the most exceptional aerial predators on the planet. Able to move like a helicopter, they hunt other flying insects, not by chasing them down directly, but by predicting where they are going to be and intercepting them mid-flight.
In the moat, you might see large groups of strange looking thin, segmented, green reeds. These are horsetails, part of a family that is over 350 million years old. At their peak, these would have been huge plants, creating the wet forests of the Carboniferous period, where most of our fossil resources originate, some of these ancient habitats are today even referred to as “coal swamps”. Before modern trees evolved, the tallest things around were giant ferns and horsetails, it would have been an alien world populated by amphibians, small reptiles that would later become dinosaurs, and giant insects, including the mighty meganeura, a dragonfly as big as an eagle!
Fun Fact: There are 24 members of the Odonata group in Ireland, 11 damselflies and 13 larger dragonflies. The name Odonata comes from the Ancient Greek odon which means tooth, as they have toothed mandibles (mouthparts) even though almost all insects have these “teeth”.
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