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The titular “tobar” of Baile an Tobair, the well is another unsuspecting biodiversity hotspot. The heathers and lavender that line the walkway down to the well have scented flowers that attract insects like bees and moths, and the sweet smell also helps night-flying bats to navigate and find prey. Bats are not actually blind, in fact, their vision is comparable to a human’s, however, we can’t see at night and neither can they, so they rely instead on their keen sense of smell and ability to echolocate, emitting a series of sound pulses that bounce off the environment to create a 3D picture. We rely on the bouncing of light waves off objects like apples or tables to interpret our environment, bats, dolphins and whales, who are adapted to low-light environments, do the same with sound waves. We have a total of nine bat species in Ireland, all of which are protected.
Just beyond the well is an area of wet grassland. This pseudo-wetland is fed in part by the stream that runs through Ballintober, and is another important habitat. Wetlands are generally fed by water, and support different types of life. Bogs are characterised by nutrient-poor peat soil and relatively little plant life, while swamps have more nutrients and can support trees and woody plant life. The wet grassland you see before you is not exactly a true wetland and is largely a result of poor drainage. It may occasionally dry in extended hot weather but it still supports typical wetland species, such as the soft rush, which is ironically quite sharp, and yellow irises, sometimes called “flaggers”. Like the biodiversity garden, this type of habitat can offer small pockets of standing water that are required by amphibians and some water-based insects.
Fun fact: The smallest bats in Ireland, the common and soprano pipistrelle, weigh in at about 5 g each and can consume around 3,000 insects per night.
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