Beetlemania, clicks and clocks

Townland tales

Fiddaunnageeroge. Pic: John O’Callaghan

A trip to the wonderfully named Fiddaunnageeroge prompts some big questions about small things

The seanfhocail (proverb) ‘aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile’ reminds us all of our schooldays. It has the same meaning as ‘birds of a feather flock together’ but, literally translated, it means ‘one beetle knows another beetle’. While this aphorism is all well and good between individuals of the same species, unfortunately when it comes to humans knowing their native beetle species it’s a different story!
Fiddaunnageeroge, or ‘the stream of the beetles’ from ‘feadán’, a stream, and ‘ciaróg’, a beetle gives us the full Irish name ‘Feadán na gCiaróg’. This townland is located in the electoral division of Bunaveela, in the Civil Parish of Crossmolina and in the Barony of Tirawley. To reach it, when travelling north along the Nephin Drive towards Keenagh (from ‘caonach’ meaning moss), take a left for 1.5km, where a rock-sign says ‘Fiddaun’.

Mayo minutiae
I have enquired of naturalists and heritage officers and consulted entomological texts, but so far have drawn a blank on any unique beetles that are indigenous to Fiddaunnageeroge. I did find an early (1936) reference, specific to west Mayo, contributed by Royal Irish Academy member (MRIA) AW Stelfox in The Irish Naturalists’ Journal, in a piece entitled: ‘A Rare Irish Click-Beetle Common in West Mayo’. The paper by the Belfast-born naturalist and entomologist is very short; and an edited version follows:
“When collecting on the sandhills of The Mullet, West Mayo, I discovered a click-beetle which was new to me and which has been identified by Mr E O’Mahony as Corymbites aeneus L. This beetle is a very beautiful blue-black colour with metallic reflections and broader in proportion to its length than our common brown species.
“I found it very commonly all over the sandhills from Bingham Lodge, near Annagh Head, west of Belmullet, as far south as Cross Lough, which was the limit of my exploration. I did not see a specimen except on the dunes.
“Its abundance at sea-level and on the sandhills in this western locality is surprising, as the only previous Irish record for the species is that of a single specimen said to have been taken in July 1898, ‘near the Tunnel on the Glengarriff Road’ in West Cork, by the late J Ray Hardy, of Manchester.”
I have just learned from Áine O’Connor and Brian Nelson, of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, that the click beetle is actually Selatosomus melancholicus and the Mullet is the only site for it across Britain and Ireland, which is very interesting. In 2009, O’Connor and Nelson compiled a report entitled ‘Ireland Red List No. 1 – Water beetles’, along with co-author GN Foster.
“Water beetles, whilst not being the most charismatic of insects, have attracted considerable interest in Ireland both in the early 20th century, when Professor Balfour-Browne initiated a recording scheme, and from the 1980s onwards. The availability of a database spanning well over a century has made it possible to evaluate decline in order to identify species at risk of extinction in Ireland.”The report lists a number of species of beetle indigenous to Mayo: Cyphon kongsbergensis, the Kongsberg Marsh Beetle, originally recorded in 1999, and Cyphon palustris, a marsh beetle, found on Clare Island in 2002.
The two most likely contenders to be present in Fiddaunnageeroge (and this is complete speculation on my behalf!) might be Paracymus scutellaris, the Shield Scavenger Beetle, found mainly in acid flushes, sometimes on the surface of bogs and often on Irish islands (whilst still frequent in Ireland, its habitat is easily degraded by drainage), or Stictotarsus multilineatus, a bubblegum diver, a species of clear mountain pools that is likely to be affected by climate change.

When I paid a fleeting visit there last year, I met with members of the O’Hara family, who have been farming in ‘Fiddaun’ for over 100 years. In the course of our all-too-brief conversation we discussed the placename and the beetles.
Michael and Theresa informed me that the RTÉjr TV station had been filming a family there that summer who had been challenged to survive ‘in the wild’ over a number of days. Fiddaun proved an excellent bog and woodland habitat, and the resultant four episodes of ‘Bush Kids’ are available to view on RTE Player and well worth a look!
Beetles can be challenging for amateur naturalists. Of all known animal life-forms, 25 percent are beetles, which is about 400,000 species. Experts reckon that there are more than that number still waiting to be discovered, described and named. Around 30,000 species of ground beetle – often known as ‘clocks’ or the ‘black clock beetle’ in Ireland – have been described worldwide, with 211 found in Ireland. These ‘carabids’ are very common in gardens and on arable land. Keep an eye out.
Regarding the water beetles that inhabit the streams in Fiddaun, I am still none the wiser!

Dr John O’Callaghan is a mountain walk leader who has organised and led expeditions both at home and abroad. He has served on the board of Mountaineering Ireland and is currently on the Irish Uplands Forum board. In 2012, he wrote the winning article that secured Westport’s accolade as the Irish Times’ ‘Best Place to Live in Ireland’.