Eye on Nature: From a curious sea shell to poisonous mushrooms

Ethna Viney answers queries and sheds light on the many puzzles of ever-changing nature

Could you tell us the name of the sea creature that this shell belongs to? We found it on the beach at Ballybunion; it was about 8cm long. Amy (10) and Rory (8) Treacy, Ballybunion, Co Kerry. It’s the shell of the rugose squat lobster minus its claws. It would have been reddish when alive. It lives under rocks and stones on the lower shore and intertidal zone.

Any idea what this bushy growth is? It’s growing on a spruce. Gerry Kelly. Ballinameen, Co Roscommon.

It’s called witch’s broom and can be caused by a fungus, a virus or damage to the growing of a branch when several shoots grow into a bunch like a birds’ nest.

This is a photo of a water rail’s nest among the reeds at Lough Sheelin. There were six eggs in it.  Mick Weighell, Lough Sheelin, Co Cavan.


During a recent walk in a wooded area I came across this mushroom. What is it? Matt Tracey, Wicklow town.

The false morel comes out at this time of year, and it’s poisonous.

I saw this jackdaw on the UCD campus. Its upper beak seems very unusual. Would you know why this is and how might it affect the bird? Kieran McGovern, Sandymount, Dublin 4.

The beak has been damaged at some point when it was growing. This deformity undoubtedly affects its ability to eat, although it looks quite healthy.

We found this octopus washed up on the rocks on Shankill beach when the tide was out. Can you tell us anything about it. Róisín and Tim Gavin, Shankill, Dublin 18.

It’s the lesser octopus. This is smaller than the common octopus, and reddish-brown while the common octopus is grey or brown-green. It lives among the rocks and stones on the extreme lower shore.

  • Ethna Viney welcomes observations and photographs at Thallabawn, Louisburgh, Co Mayo, F28 F978, or by email at viney@anu.ie. Include a postal address.