I reckon this has been the wettest school summer holidays I can remember.
Not too chilly, and with bits of sunshine – I particularly enjoyed seeing a small ‘bite’ missing from the bottom of the golden sun as it set over Bath on Monday night; the tail end of the Great American Eclipse. But certainly, there’s been plenty of rain around here.
I’ve given up trying to deter the local slug armies from swarming my vegetable beds - they’re just everywhere, and good luck to them. But while the rain puts a dampener on my gardening efforts, it has brought out lots of amphibians. And those, I do like.
Did you know that the UK has only seven species of amphibian, falling into two groups? We have four species of frog and toad (two of each), and three types of newt. I’m going to disregard one of the frogs - the pool frog Pelophylax lessonae, because it only exists at a few secret sites in East Anglia (it was declared extinct in the UK in 1995, but descendants are being re-introduced). So, most of us will never see one of those.
Which leaves six to look for. Rain will often bring them out, otherwise they’ll be spending this time of year lurking under logs and rocks near calm water. So as they enjoy their moment in the perma-drizzle, here’s a few amphibious facts - and a challenge!
Can you find (and photograph) these 6 amphibians before they all melt away to their winter hiding-holes? There might just be a little prize for those who do (scroll to bottom to enter)!
Can you find these six this season? Click to enlarge.
Common newt, Triturus vulgaris
Vulgaris. Common as muck. Common in muck, too, at least in my garden…. these guys turn up under rocks and loose paving slabs in my garden, as well as in and around our tiny pond. Outside the breeding season, they’re greenish-brown and speckled, with an orange hue to the belly and pale, spotted throats.
Palmate newt, Lissotriton helveticus
Similar to the smooth newt, but usually a bit smaller and the pale throat will be un-spotted. Males have two ridges along either side of the back as well as the spine. You can also check for a dark stripe through the eye. At this time of year, they tend to be spotted near water after dark on rainy nights.
Great crested newt, Triturus cristatus
These are our rarest newt – and I’ve never yet seen one (despite peering into many a pond said to contain them). They’re also our largest, growing to around 15cm, so you’d think they’d be a bit easier to spot! Though they’ll have lost their glorious breeding ‘plumage’ by now, look for dark, knobbly skin with orange speckled belly, and a robust fin along the top and bottom of the tail. This year’s juveniles are emerging from their ponds this month - in isolated pockets around mainland Britain, but not Ireland.
FROGS & TOADS
Common frog, Rana temporaria
Should need no introduction - my garden is crawling with these guys, and they are very welcome to feast on all the slugs during any rain-induced bonanza. Colours and markings can vary widely (often to match their surroundings!), but they are delicately built and smooth-skinned.
Common toad, Bufo bufo
Deliciously warty and chunky-looking’ all bulges and carbuncles, in a lacklustre brownish-greenish-grey. I saw one this week, sitting motionless on a lawn with its eyes gazing forward - then realised it was dead, so didn’t count. This did allow me close inspection, though.
Natterjack toad, Epidalea calamita
A Red-Listed toad to get excited about - I want to give double points for this one. Natterjacks a bit more colourful than the old bufo bufo, with red or yellow warts and a yellow stripe along it back. Unlike common toads it’ll get about by walking or running, rather than hopping - hence it’s also known as the running toad. They’re only found at about 60 sites in the UK, mainly around sandy, coastal heaths in north-west England and western Scotland. Good luck!
GIVE AMPHIBIANS A HOME
The best way to encourage your own amphibian population (and keep those slugs at bay!) is to have your own pond. Mine is only a metre long, tucked into a corner, but it yields plenty of happy amphibians. Make sure there are rocks or loose slabs, and vegetation around it to give them shelter. You can also add a broken flowerpot or two on their side and cover with soil for insulation - or buy a ready-made frog shelter!
The first person to email us their own 2017 snaps of the six species above, gets to choose a free wildlife book from our current Nature's Home booklist. (We'll share your snaps, too!)