Although the island of Ireland has existed in some shape or form for millennia, it’s thought that Europeans first settled the land around 10,000 years ago.
Due to a mixture of isolation (as an island) and a lack of imports, Ireland has fewer animal and plant species when compared to mainland Europe. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of beautiful and fascinating creatures native to the island.
What Animals are Native to Ireland?
Here are just five of the many species that are native to Ireland.
The Irish hare is the only native lagomorph in Ireland. They can be found all over, around the seashore, on mountain tops, bogs, and farmland, making them one of Ireland’s most widespread mammals. The Irish Hare is a sub-species of Lepus Timidus, and this species has a widespread distribution from Ireland to the Pacific Ocean. What makes them different from other subspecies of Lepus Timidus is that they very rarely turn white in the winter.
While considered ubiquitous throughout the country, there is a lack of information about the status of the Hare. Lepus Timidus is protected under Article six of the Bern Convention in Europe. Unfortunately, the Hare is hunted in an open season from November to March in Ireland.
Hares are taken from the wild to be used in enclosed coursing meetings. Hares that survive are then re-released back into the wild. It is not known how such exploitation affects populations, because a comprehensive numerical survey has never been completed, no baseline data can be used as a basis for monitoring widespread population dynamics.
In Ireland, the Red Deer is believed to have been present for at least 12,000 years. This deer is the biggest land mammal in Ireland, and the species is considered “native” in Ireland.
They are a rusty red color in summer, but turn brown around winter time. They also have a large head, wide-spaced brown eyes, a shorts tail, and pale rump patch with no distinguishing characteristics. The Red Deer’s antlers are the most distinguishing feature of the species. The red deer’s primary food is grass, but they will also eat a range of plants, including rushes, herbs, shrubs, tree shoots, and sedges.
It is unknown how many wild Red Deer and their hybrids exist in Ireland because no national deer census has been done. They can mainly be found on Cores, Torc, and Mangerton Mountains. In the lowland areas of the national park, other herds can be found in Killarney.
Great Irish Elk
While the Great Irish Elk (also known as the ‘giant deer’) is one of the largest deers to have lived in Ireland, they have been extinct for a long time. They were a very large species and were seven feet at the shoulder (2.1 meters), with antlers that were as tall as 12 feet (3.65 meters). The Irish elk was a species within the Cervidae family and related closely to the fallow deer. It is also related to the European elk and the North American elk (but not as closely related).
Their huge antlers were likely a sexually selected trait, and the females were more likely to mate with males who had large antlers. This was because the males fought with their antlers so those with bigger ones could fight better, and this implied better fitness.
Most of their skeletons and antlers have been found in Ireland’s bogs. A popular theory for their extinction is that their antlers became too big, and they could no longer support them with their heads.
The Red Fox is one of the biggest foxes and is one of the most fantastic species native to Ireland. The Red Fox is highly adaptive and has even been spotted in urban areas. They tend to keep away from humans, which isn’t surprising given the amount they have been hunted.
They eat rodents, birds, rabbits, and other small creatures. However, they are flexible with their diet and eat fish, fruit, vegetables, or even worms. If they live around humans, they will take the opportunity to snack on pet food and garbage.
Foxes meet to mate in winter. The female (called the vixen) usually gives birth to 2 to 12 pups. When they’re born, red foxes are gray or brown; by the end of the first month, some are reddish brown, golden, silver, or black.
Hedgehogs are one of the most adorable native species in Ireland. Animal lovers adore them because of their gentle nature and cute appearance. These small animals aren’t territorial and are at a higher risk from human behaviour than other species. If you’re looking for hedgehogs, they can be found in the countryside after dark. Hedgehogs eat snails, slugs, earthworms, beetles, birds eggs, carrion, and nestlings. These tiny creatures are up to 30cm tall and weigh 1.2kg.
In Ireland hedgehogs are classed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN red list because the species is data deficient. However, in Britain, they are now classed as Vulnerable to Extinction.
These were just five of the popular species native to Ireland. Some others include the Viviparous Lizard, the Pygmy Shrew, the Connemara Pony, the Irish Setter, the Badger, and more but be sure to keep an eye out if you’re travelling throughout the country or enjoying our national parks.
If you’d like to find out more about the National Animal of Ireland, click here.