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Over The Garden Gate

Common Frog
Common Toad
Smooth Newt
Palmate Newt
Great Crested Newt

Frogs, Toads and Newts

By Perry
Hopping Frog

The Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

Common Frog - photo by Gill UK Although called the common frog, sadly, because of changes to our environment and loss of habitat (ponds have been filled in and hedges and ditches removed) the frog is becoming more and more rare, which is where we can help enormously, by creating the habitats which they need in our gardens.
Another factor which has caused a decline, is the increasing use of insecticides, not only on farms but also in gardens, so their foodstuff is also becoming more scarce.
Frogs are different from toads (more about them later) in that they have a moist feel and the back of a frog has a slightly raised appearance. They have no necks and so the base of the skull rests very close to the collarbones.
Common Frog - Photo by Pat O'Reilly The breeding season obviously varies in different parts of the country, but can run from January through to the end of March. You may well hear a great deal of croaking going on at this time, this is the males, calling for a mate and possibly warning other males off 'their' territory. I think though that the warning rarely works, they all just form a chorus line, which is very entertaining! Males, can also be distinguished by their slightly larger feet with horny pads, to help them grip the females.
Each female will lay up to 2000 eggs, surrounded by a layer of jelly (known as frogspawn) in the water; after having been courted and embraced for quite a long period possibly for days or even weeks by the successful suitor, this to persuade her to lay the eggs, which he then fertilises immediately in the water. The jelly then swells and all the eggs rise to the surface encased in the jelly from which the eggs obtain nutrition. This produces that mass we have all seen so often. As several frogs will spawn in the same place it can be a very large mass indeed, containing anything up to 25,000 or more eggs of which about one in one thousand survive to become a mature adult!
Frog Spawn - photo by Perry This too can be a dangerous time for frogs as they can die of exhaustion or become so weak that they fall prey to predators.

After about four weeks the eggs hatch into tadpoles, which look a little bit like tiny fish. They breathe oxygen from the water through a pair of gills (just like fish) one gill on each side of the body just behind the head, these gills remain external for about four weeks and are then absorbed. They feed on minute water plants.
Within seven weeks they will have grown hind legs, and formed the front legs, which stay within the skin. These legs come through at about ten weeks and the tails begin to be absorbed and they develop lungs, and by twelve weeks they are miniature replicas of their parents. At this stage they are ready to leave the water and now feed on insects, slugs and small worms! So please be very careful when mowing your lawn
Frog In winter frogs hibernate, some, mainly males, will bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of your pond, and the rest including most of the females will go off to find a cosy, muddy ditch. Their metabolism slows in order to conserve energy, although the ones in your pond may pop up for a look around and a practice croak in milder weather! Then the cycle starts again with everyone returning to the pond. They are ready to breed round about their fifth spring!

Unfortunately there is a virus, if you wish to be scientific, it is thought to be an iridovirus, probably Ranavirus which is affecting our frogs, it is commonly known as Red Leg. Typically, adult frogs are seen to be dying over several weeks, resulting in dozens, or even hundreds, of deaths and as the name suggests their limbs are red in colour, for more information about this disease and to report any deaths you may see visit Froglife
We can all help the research into the causes of this by reporting any incidents we see, and perhaps help to eradicate it through a greater understanding.

The Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Common Toad - Photo by Pat O'Reilly Common toads are Britain's largest and heaviest amphibians, but are not found in Ireland. They can be found in fields, under hedgerows, in gardens and woodlands in fact almost anywhere you would expect to find their food supply of insects. The colouring of the toad will vary with the colour of the soil in their chosen habitat therefore they can be greyish or brownish depending on local soil colour.
They are great creatures of habit so you may find them in the same spot for weeks on end, but they can be difficult to spot because of their camouflage and therefore the ability to blend in. They also can remain completely motionless for hours at a time.

Toads are much easier to spot in the springtime when they will walk for long distances back to their breeding ponds, which is usually the original pond in which they developed.

A toad will slowly stalk its prey then….. out flashes its sticky tongue and bingo, dinner! In order to help it to swallow it's unfortunate prey the toad blinks which helps to push the food down into the stomach.
Common Toads warty skin - photographer unknown Although normally associated with water toads (and frogs) spend most of their time on dry land. They rest in the same hiding place each day after their nightly forage for food of slugs, worms and insects. The skin of the Common Toad is cool, dry and warty to the touch, but it contains a substance which will burn the mouth of any animal, which tries to eat them!
A male toad will average 60 -65mm (2.3 to 2.5 inches) and a female about 85 - 90mm (3.75 - 4 inches)
Toads are 'explosive' breeders with many hundreds of sexually mature individuals from a district migrating to their chosen breeding ground, finding mates and spawning within a week or so.
Unlike frogs toads lay their eggs, in double rows, in long strands about 3 metres (10 ft long) in March and early April. These strands are woven around the stems and leaves of water plants.
The tadpoles when they hatch at about two or three weeks, and through May and June swim freely in open water sometimes in shoals numbering tens of thousands. They are omnivorous and will feed on algae, rotting plants and dead animals. The tadpoles are prey to many insects and are greedily eaten. Of the 1,000-4,000 eggs laid by one female only 5% are likely to survive.
Even so on damp nights in June or July pond banks can be seething with tiny toads dispersing into the surrounding countryside, toads do not hop, they crawl. Please be very careful where you walk and how you mow your lawn at this time! They will not return except for the occasional soak in a dry spell, until they are ready to breed at about two or three years of age.
In October they all go off to hibernate again in chosen cosy hedges and ditches. There is one other toad in the UK, that is the Natterjack toad, found mainly in sandy, coastal areas of east and north-west England. It is smaller and has been legally protected since 1975.

The Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgaris)

Our most widespread newt, the Smooth or Common Newt, is found throughout Britain and is the only newt species to be found in Ireland. It can grow to 10cm and is the species most often found in ponds, including garden ponds, during the breeding season between February and June. The Smooth Newt is brown, the female being fairly plain whilst the male is spotty and develops a continuous wavy crest along its back in the breeding season. The belly of both sexes is yellow to orange with black spots, and the spots found on the throat are a good way of telling this species apart from Palmate Newts (which have no spots on their throat). Outside the breeding season newts come onto land and live in damp places, they are most frequently found underneath logs and debris in this phase of their annual cycle.
Smooth Newt - female - photo by Kev
Smooth Newt - female
Smooth Newt - male - photo by gill uk
Smooth Newt - male
Newts found in these circumstances are sometimes confused with lizards but lizards are quick and active and have scaly rather than smooth skin.

Newts eat small invertebrates (including frog tadpoles) either on land or in the water. Like frogs and toads they too have a tadpole stage; a newt tadpole is called an eft. Unlike frogs and toads, the tadpoles of newts develop their front legs before their back legs. Newt efts breathe through external feathery gills, which grow behind the head. Spawn is laid as individual eggs each of which is carefully wrapped in a leaf of pondweed by the female newt.

The Smooth Newt, like the Common Frog is often found in garden ponds, frequently arriving of its own accord. As with frogs, its tadpoles will be eaten by fish if they are present. Garden ponds have become extremely important for this species, as ponds in the wider countryside have become fewer and increasingly polluted.

Smooth Newts are protected by law in Great Britain against being sold or traded in any way. In Northern Ireland they are fully protected, this prohibits, killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade.

Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus)

This is Britain's other small brown newt. It is a little smaller than the Smooth Newt, rarely exceeding 6cm. Adult females are hard to distinguish from female Smooth Newts. The best way to tell them apart is the fact that the throat of the Smooth Newt is spotted and that of the Palmate newt is either plain pink or yellow.

The male, in breeding condition, has a low crest along the middle of the back, a filament at the tip of the tail and black webs on the back feet, from which it gets it's name as it makes the feet look rather like hands. The dark markings at the side of the head are more marked in the Palmate Newt.
Palmate Newt - male - photo by Kev
Palmate Newt - male
Palmate Newt - female - photo by gill uk
Palmate Newt - female

Whilst widely distributed, the Palmate Newt has a definite preference for shallow ponds on acid soils. It is therefore most commonly found on heathland in the south and west, and in the north, on moorland and bogs. The life cycle of the Palmate Newt is very similar to that of the Smooth Newt and they also eat very similar prey. Palmate Newts seem able to withstand dryer conditions than the Smooth Newt and are frequently found a long way from water.

In Great Britain, this species is protected only in as much as sale and trade in any form is prohibited.

The Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)

This is our largest and most threatened species of newt. In comparison to the Smooth Newt and the Palmate Newt, the Great Crested Newt is significantly larger, growing up to 15 cm in length and looking much more heavily built. This newt is dark brown or black in colour with a more warty, rough skin. The underside is bright orange with black spots and the sides are stippled with tiny white dots.
Two female Crested Newts
In the spring, the males develop an impressive ragged crest along their back and a separate straight edged crest along the top of the tail. Females lack the crest of the male, and are bulky in appearance particularly in the breeding season when they are swollen with eggs. The efts of this species are mottled with black and have a tiny filament at the end of the tail. They are bigger and rather more fish like than the efts of the other two species.

The Great Crested Newt is a voracious feeder and because of its size can consume much larger prey than the smaller newt species. It can be found in ponds of all types and when a pond conditions are particularly favourable, numbers can grow to impressive proportions. This species needs extensive good wild habitat with plenty of invertebrate food for the period outside the breeding season when it spends time on land, and as a result is less commonly found in gardens.

The Great Crested Newt is widely distributed but uncommon throughout Britain, including Scotland. It is absent from Ireland. More than the other newt species it has suffered declines in recent decades, both here and in the rest of its range.

Because of the massive declines in range and abundance in recent years, the Great Crested newt is strictly protected by British and European law, which makes it an offence to ...
  • Kill, injure or capture them;
  • Disturb them in any way
  • Damage or destroy their habitat
  • Possess them or sell or trade them in any way.

With thanks for photo's to First Nature Amphibians

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