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Written By: BCS Jan 11,2018 / Academic / No Comments

Ballincollig Community School Vying For Young Scientist Title

The news that huge, rat-like rodents had been spotted in Cork made waves last May.

A coypu, the South American species that has become a pest in many European countries, was spotted in the the Lee fields and in the Curraheen River, a tributary of the Lee that flows through Ballincollig.

Second Years Emer Conway and Nicola Batt, both aged 14, wanted to investigate the environmental threat posed to their area by the metre-long mammals should a breeding population establish itself.

The first shock for the girls was to discover what prolific breeders the rodents, who live on a diet of water plants and devastate marshland ecosystems, can be.

“We were working on a dispersion model,” Emer says. “We discovered that over three years, there could be 412 offspring from one breeding pair. They become sexually mature in four months, and once they’ve given birth they can become pregnant again by the next day so one pair could have a litter three times a year.”

Enlisting the help of Danny O’Keeffe, from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NWPS), the girls went to seven locations on the Curraheen River to search for signs of their presence.
“We looked for indicators,” Nicola says. “We looked for droppings, fresh trails and burrows. But there wasn’t anything in any location, even though there were plants they would eat.”

This finding ties in with reports from the NWPS that 11 of the rodents had been trapped and killed on the Curraheen.

Nicola is no lover of rodents and says that at first, she was “petrified” by the idea of the giant rat-like creatures, but the process of learning about them made her approach her phobia in a more scientific manner.

However, knowing what a huge amount of damage the rodents can cause, the students were relieved to find that, for now at least, the threat has disappeared.

“They burrow into banks and cause flooding and they also eat crops and compete with native species,” Emer says. “We were surprised to learn the amount of damage they could create.

“But another purpose of our project is to make people aware to keep an eye out for them, so that if they did come back we could keep them under control and stop them doing more damage.”

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