THE Kerry slug gained some notoriety when it was discovered at Cascade Wood in Baile Bhúirne diverting the proposed bypass to a different route. Despite its high profile little is actually known about the mysterious creature which the south west of Ireland shares with Spain, Portugal and possibly Brittany.
Researcher, Rory McDonnell recently visited the Múscraí Gaeltacht village to search for the Kerry Slug as part of his research for the NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) to establish the distribution of the Kerry Slug in the South West. He visited Cascade Wood and St Gobnait's Wood in Baile Bhúirne and has spent time on Beara including Glengarriff where the slug has been found in the past and a variety of location in south Kerry.
The project is in two phases. The first is to survey suitable areas in Cork and Kerry to get a distribution map for the species.
The second phase is to come up with a monitoring protocol for the species, and Rory is currently testing different types of traps that do not harm the slugs. A scientific formula is then used that can estimate population size for different habitats based on number marked and unmarked slugs trapped.
A new web site will help to collate records of the species and members of the public are called to help.
Kerry Slugs are found only in wild habitats in both woodlands and heath lands.
They have two distinct colour forms - brown with yellow spots, found most frequently in woodlands and Black with white spots found mainly on heaths and blanket bog.
"When they're disturbed they curl themselves right up into a little ball," Rory says.
Late at night around 11pm is a good time to spot them he says. Traditionally they are found only on oak, ash, holly and birch but not on beech trees and are suspected to feed on lichens and mosses and liverworts that grow on the trunks of oak trees and that grow on sandstone boulders.
As a protected species it is illegal to kill it or damage its habitat in any way.
So, apart from road planning why study these little creatures? "For me it is such an important part of our natural heritage that we should be conserving. They are the healthiest populations of the species not only in Europe but in the entire world," says Rory.