Wildlife

Further information on habitats, wildlife and designations within Killarney National Park, together with selected species lists may be found in the Killarney National Park  Management Plan 2005 – 2009 which can be downloaded here.


Fauna

Invertebrates

The Kerry slug is notable for its distribution, being found only in Kerry and West Cork in Ireland as well as in northern Spain and Portugal. The slug is widespread in the Old Red Sandstone areas of the National Park and populations there are contiguous with those outside the National Park boundaries. It is more active at night, when it grazes on a wide variety of mosses, lichens and liverworts in oakwoodlands.

kerryslug
Kerry Slug (image Robert Thompson)

During the day, particularly when the weather is dry, the slug retreats to cracks and crevices in trees, particularly under the bark. The slug can also be found in open heath habitats, where it grazes on lichen covered sandstone boulders.

The freshwater pearl mussel has been recorded in the Owenreagh River where it forms the boundary of the National Park as it flows into the Upper Lake. Survey work has indicated that mussels as young as eight years may be present and that there are up to 3,000 individuals occurring.

freshwaterpearlmussel
Freshwater pearl mussel

The aquatic snail, Limnaea peregra var. involuta has only been recorded from two locations in Ireland, one of these is in the National Park, in Lough Crincaum, in the townland of Gortroe.

Killarney is also one of two Irish locations at which the downy emerald dragonfly has been found and the only station for the northern emerald dragonfly.

DownyEmeraldDragonfly
Downy Emerald Dragon fly

Formica lugubris, a wood ant, is present in small numbers of nests in the National Park is known only in four other localities in Ireland.

Purple hairstreak butterfly, a species restricted to the oak woodland canopy has been recorded in the National Park.

There are known to be a number of small to medium sized, highly mobile populations of marsh fritillary scattered throughout the National Park. The associated habitat is damp acidic grassland rich in devil’s-bit scabious, the caterpillars’ food plant.

MarshFritillary  photo by Mark Pike
Marsh Fritillary (photo by Mark Pike)

Fish

In total, fourteen fish species have been identified from lakes within the National Park. Of these, two are of particular interest. The Killarney shad is a small land-locked sub-species of the twaite shad. This sub-species is unique to Lough Leane. Other populations exclusive to freshwater occur in some Italian lakes.

The Arctic char, basically a fish of the sub-Arctic is presumably a relict species. More widely spread in glacial or post-glacial times, its range contracted as the climate became milder to a small number of Irish water bodies, including Lough Leane.

All three Irish species of lamprey – sea, brook and river have been recorded in the lakes or in the Long Range River.

From economic and recreational viewpoints, the most important species are salmon and trout. Both species spawn in the rivers of the catchment and have been recorded in the lakes.

Salmo salar Atlantic salmon
Salmo salar Atlantic salmon

Amphibians and Reptiles

The common frog is widespread, breeding even in tiny bodies of water. Common newt and viviparous lizard, Ireland’s only native reptile are also found within the National Park.

Common Newt
Common Newt

Birds

The diversity of habitats in KNP is reflected in the wide range of bird species occurring. More than 140 species have been recorded in the National Park. This includes resident species as well as migrants, which spend only part of the year in the south-west of the country. Others have been recorded on passage during the spring and autumn migrations and a few are vagrants, possibly blown off-course during winter storms.

Particularly notable species that occur include Greenland white-fronted goose, kingfisher, redstart, garden warbler, wood warbler, ring ouzel, peregrine falcon and merlin. 50% of the world’s population of 30,000 Greenland white-fronted geese over-winter in Ireland, feeding on wetlands and farmland from mid October to early April. The Killarney flock is the only Irish bog feeding flock to winter almost entirely within a protected area, feeding on the underground bulbils of the white–beaked sedge in areas of lowland blanket bog other species found on lowland bogs include common snipe and the smaller jack snipe which occurs in small numbers in winter.

Greenland White-fronted Geese in flight Photo Alyn Walsh NPWS
Greenland White-fronted Geese in flight (Photo Alyn Walsh, NPWS)
Greenland White-fronted Geese feeding on grassland Photo Alyn Walsh NPWS
Greenland White-fronted Geese feeding on grassland (Photo Alyn Walsh, NPWS)

Kingfishers occur regularly on the Deenagh, Cloghereen and Gearhameen Rivers. The breeding population in the National Park is estimated at 2-5 pairs. Heron and dipper are also regularly seen on flowing waters and also breed in the National Park.

34 species of wildfowl have been recorded on the Lakes of Killarney, 21 on a regular basis. Nine are breeding species, including little grebe, great-crested grebe, red breasted merganser, tufted duck and mallard. Five are present around the year but not breeding in the National Park, and seven are regular winter visitors, including bewick and whooper swans, goldeneye, teal, wigeon and pochard.

Dipper by Des Glynn
Dipper by Des Glynn

In addition to these, eight species of wader (two recorded as breeding) and two species of rail (one breeding) have been recorded on the lake margins. Common Tern was recorded as a vagrant in Ross Bay during the 1980s, but has not been recorded since then.

Hatching aquatic insects also provide food for the swallows, martins and swifts which feed over the lakes. In addition, certain species of warblers commonly nest in lakeside vegetation. Thus, over 50 bird species frequent lakes and rivers and their margins.

Reasonable breeding populations of most Irish woodland species, both resident and migrant occur in the National Park. Breeding densities vary between the various woodland types, with robins being one of the most abundant species in the oak woodland and goldcrest in the yew woodland.

Rare breeding species include wood warbler, garden warbler and blackcap, all of which appear to be increasing in range. The redstart, a rare breeder in Ireland, has nested in the past within the oak woodlands of the National Park, but has not been recorded for at least ten years. The woodlands also provide important food reserves for winter immigrants such as redwing, fieldfare and immigrant populations of blackbird, mistle thrush and chaffinch.

The upland areas of blanket bog support a small wintering flock of golden plover, while red grouse occur in very small numbers (less then 10 birds) in areas of heath in summer.

redgrouse

Ring ouzels are rare summer visitors to upland areas, and only one pair was proved breeding in the 1980s, with a number of single birds also recorded. The commonest bird of the uplands is meadow pipit, which together with the skylark moves to lowland farmland in the winter. Stonechat and wheatear are common summer visitors while raven breed throughout the area.

At least one pair of peregrine falcons nest in the National Park most years. Merlin, one of Ireland’s rarest birds of prey also breeds in the National Park with a possible three to five nesting sites, either in old crows’ nests or in heather.

Mammals

The last surviving indigenous herd of red deer in Ireland occurs in the Killarney Valley. While all other red deer herds in the country are descended from re-introduced stock (mainly of Scottish origin), the Killarney herd has been here since neolithic times. The population is estimated to number between 800 and 1000 animals.

Red Stag Knockreer photo Paudie OLeary
Red Stag Knockreer (photo Paudie O’Leary)

Japanese sika deer, a species threatened elsewhere were introduced to Killarney Valley in 1865. Today there are approximately 900-1100 sika deer in the National Park. This population is of international genetic conservation interest as it has remained genetically un-introgressed with other (red and other sika) types which has occurred both in this country and elsewhere, including Japan.

Sika Stags Paudie OLeary
Sika Stags (photo Paudie O’Leary)

There are eight known lesser horseshoe bat roosts in the National Park including a summer roost at Tomies Wood, a hibernation site at Muckross Peninsula and a nursery site on the Muckross-Torc Road. Other roosts have been recorded at Killarney House, Derrycunihy Church and Knockreer. This bat species is listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive and all of these roosts are of international importance. Seven other species of bat have been recorded in the National Park.

Other species worthy of note include the pine marten, a rare and secretive predator that has become more widespread in the National Park in recent times, particularly since the release of additional animals into the National Park.

Otter is widespread in aquatic habitats of KNP. Mink are also present.

Most of the rest of Ireland’s indigenous terrestrial mammals, including Irish hare, red squirrel, badger, stoat and fox have been recorded in the National Park. Indeed some marine species have also been recorded, with seals having been seen in Lough Leane.

Bank voles, first recorded in Ireland in 1964 and present in Killarney since 1969, may have been introduced to the country accidentally. Now common in the National Park woodlands, they feed on fruit, seeds and other plant material, and so may have a slight impact on woodland regeneration as well as competing with other small mammals

Bank vole
Bank vole

Flora

Bryophytes

The Killarney area is now well known for the diversity of its bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), most of which occur within the National Park. It has been described as a “district unmatched in Europe for its richness in bryophytes” and the woods and glens around the lakes and Torc attract enthusiasts from many countries. Some species are confined in Ireland to Killarney and are found outside Ireland and Britain only at distant locations in the Iberian Peninsula, Macaronesia and in some cases in North and South America, Africa and other parts of the tropics.

Lichens

The lichen flora of the National Park is of similar importance to the bryophytes. The diversity of lichens can be attributed to the presence of a wide range of habitats, particularly mature woodlands, the humid temperate climate, and the absence of air pollution. Notable lichens found here, such as species of Lobaria, Parmeliella, Sticta and Pannaria, have become locally extinct in various parts of Europe as a result of air pollution.

Lobaria pulmonaria
Lobaria pulmonaria

Higher Plants

A number of plant species found within the National Park have discontinuous geographic

distributions and are of localised occurrence within Ireland. The reasons for these wide gaps in the ranges of these species have not been fully explained and it is now suggested that some may have been introduced to this country.

Two saxifrages, St. Patrick’s cabbage and kidney saxifrage, both frequent in the National Park, are found in western Ireland and northern Spain and Portugal, but not in Britain or France. Greater butterwort, also frequent in the National Park, occurs in the Pyrenees, Jura and western Alps.

St Patricks Cabbage
St Patricks Cabbage

Arbutus, which can be frequent in woodland margins in Killarney, is rare in other parts of Ireland and occurs elsewhere only in western France and in its main range in the Mediterranean region.

Arbutus in flower
Arbutus in flower

Blue-eyed grass, found in the west and centre of Ireland and occasionally in Kerry, is otherwise known only from North America.

Some plants occurring on the uplands of the National Park have their main distributions in northern and mountainous regions of Europe. Of these, mountain sorrel is an example of a true Arctic-Alpine species, while others such as green spleenwort, Alpine clubmoss and Saxifraga rosacea are somewhat more widely distributed.

Other plants in the National Park are noteworthy for their rarity in Ireland. A number of these are listed under the Flora Protection Order (1999), including Killarney fern, pillwort, betony, slender cudweed and slender naiad. Opposite-leaved pondweed seen in Killarney in the last century, is also on the protected list.

The Killarney fern was formerly quite widespread around Killarney, but was severely depleted in the 19th century by commercial collection and sale of living specimens associated with the Victorian craze for ferns. As a result only a few populations now survive in the Killarney district.

Killarney Fern
Killarney Fern

Other noteworthy rare species include alder buckthorn and whitebeam which occur on limestone outcrops around the lakeshores, bird’s-nest orchid in the woodlands and shepherds cress recorded in the past on sandy shores of Lough Leane.