May 2nd – May 8th marks the 2021 Amphibian Week marked by the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. Amphibian Week celebrates the importance of amphibians and the conservation actions to address the ongoing global amphibian crisis. Amphibians need both aquatic and terrestrial habitats throughout the year making them particularly prone to habitat destruction and pollution. Habitat destruction, non-native species, climate change, pollution and diseases all have been shown to contribute to worldwide amphibian declines.
In the UK we only have 7 native amphibian species consisting of frogs, toads and newts. We don’t want to miss any important amphibians out so thought we could use national amphibian week to have a brief run through of all the native amphibians.
There are 3 native species of newt in the UK (and 2 non-native species). Newts are a member of the salamander family. They spend their juvenile phase (called an eft) living in tall terrestrial vegetation and scrub. They return to the aquatic pond habitat in adulthood between the months of March and June to find a mate and lay eggs.
The most common of the newts is the smooth newt (also known as the common newt). Smooth newts are widespread across most of the UK (excluding the isle of man and Scotland) and are often found in garden ponds. Smooth newts are around 10cm long in adulthood, brown in colour with orange spotted underbellies.
Palmate newts are less common than smooth newts. They also look very similar to smooth newts. Palmates are slightly smaller usually around 9cm long in adulthood. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the thin black filament on the males tails during the breeding season when newt surveys are taking place. Palmate newts prefer more acidic waterbodies such as bogs and moorland.
Great Crested Newts or GCN as they are often referred to, are the most crucial newt species in terms of conservation as they are a European Protected Species. GCN are easier to tell apart from the other newts mostly because of their stature, an adult GCN can be as large as 17cm long. GCN are a darker colour closer to black than brown, with bright orange underbellies and a bumpy texture. During breeding season, the males develop a large pointed crest down their backs, and a bright white stripe down the tail tip.
There are 2 native species of toad in the UK. Toads have a similar life cycle to frogs moving from eggs to juvenile tadpoles to toadlets and finally an adult toad. One large difference between toads and frogs being that toadspawn is laid in a long chain rather than the large clumps of frogspawns.
The common toad, as the name suggests, are widespread throughout Britain (excluding Ireland). Common toads are nocturnal and conserve energy through the day and winter, staying in shallow burrows usually in woodlands. Common toads grow to around 13cm long as adults, with a dry brown/green bumpy skin. In early spring the toads leave their burrows and migrate in large numbers to breed in the ponds they were spawned in.
The Natterjack toad is heavily protected in the UK after steep declines caused by decline in coastal habitats and are now only present in a few locations across the UK. They breed in shallow pools created in sand dunes. Like the common toad, natterjack toads are nocturnal and spend the days and winter sheltered under logs or buried in mud. The natterjack toad is smaller (around 8cm long) and more olive-green in colour than the common toad, and has a distinguishing yellow stripe running down its back.
Like toads, there are 2 native species of frog in the UK. Frogs are usually smaller and smoother than toads. Frogs usually have longer legs than toads which they use to hop and jump rather than walk like toads.
As with common toads, common frogs are widespread across the UK. They can be found in many habitat types including gardens, shallow water and even residential areas. Adult frogs are usually around 13cm long and are olive green-brown in colour. AS with common toads, common frogs spend the winter sheltering under rocks or in compost heaps, or underwater buried in mud and vegetation until they emerge in spring to breed.
Pool frogs are widespread across Europe, however they are only present in one location in Norfolk in the UK. They inhabit ponds, marshes and slow moving rivers. Pool frogs are smaller than common frogs, around 9cm long. They are brown or green with dark blotches across the back and a cream or yellow dorsal stripe. They have a pair of ridges that run from the eyes down the back.
Amphibians need a diverse range of habitats from wetland and marshes to sand dunes. Many amphibians are under threat from habitat destruction. The RSPB and wildfowl and wetland trust has some informative articles on wildlife pond and mini wetland creation to implement into your courses or gardens.