Reptiles & Amphibians
The ponds and wetlands of Lancashire support all six of Britain’s native amphibian species. The Pool Frog, recorded in East Anglia may well also be a native species, but there is some debate over this status. All of our amphibians are dependant to some extent on ponds and wetlands. It has been estimated that over the last 20 years, 50% of the pond habitat has been lost. All our amphibia are therefore in decline and under threat.
The Fylde, Wigan and Bolton areas are especially important for the Great Crested Newt. Over much of its European Range, this newt is declining and is severely threatened, so much so that it is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) and through European legislation. The ‘Crestie’ is the largest of the British newts, up to 15cm in length, and can be identified by its very dark, almost black upper body, bright orange and black markings on the underside and a warty appearance. Only the male carries the incomplete crest.
The Smooth Newt is the commonest newt and can often be found in garden ponds. It can be distinguished from the Great Crested Newt in being smaller, up to 10cm in length. The female is relatively pale brown in colour, with the male being darker with pale spots and a continuous wavy crest along its back in the breeding season. The underside of both sexes is yellow to orange.
The smallest British Newt is the Palmate Newt, which rarely exceeds 6cm. In the breeding season the male has a very small crest along the middle of the back, a distinctive filament at the tip of the tail and webbed back feet. The female is difficult to tell apart from the female Smooth Newt. However it is smaller and dumpy looking with a clear throat patch, the Smooth Newt’s being spotted.
The Common Frog is very variable and can be green, brown or even red. Typically though frogs have dark patches behind the eyes and have a smooth green brown skin with brown patches. They tend to hop rather than walk. Clumps of Frogspawn can be found in early spring, closely followed by tadpoles. Frog tadpoles tend to be dark to ash brown with golden speckles. The Common Toad tadpole on the other hand is smaller and almost completely black. Toad spawn is also different and is laid in a double string, fastened to submerged vegetation. The adult toads are again variable, the female particularly so, ranging from brown to brick red in colour. Females are much bigger than the grey brown males but both sexes have distinctive golden eyes. Toads are often seen walking and rarely hop.
The Natterjack Toad is one of our rarest amphibians and can now only be found on the Sefton coast. The Natterjack is smaller than the Common Toad and has a tendency to run rather than walk. However the best distinction is the yellow stripe running down the middle of the back.
Britain supports seven species of reptiles, three snakes, three lizards and one sea turtle. Six of these can be found in Lancashire, although none of them is particularly common. Reptiles have suffered significantly from habitat loss and fragmentation of suitable habitat. They rely on a number of habitats from ponds, grasslands, rocks and heather moors and dunes.
The Common Lizard gives birth to live young, hence its alternative name of Viviparous Lizard. This is the most widespread reptile and is frequently seen on moors, heathland and freestone walls, on which it can be seen basking. It feeds on spiders and insects and reaches up to 15cm, including the tail. It is commonly brown with patterns of spots or stripes. Colour variations do occur from yellow through various shades of green and even black. In the UK, the Common Lizard is protected by law.
The Sand Lizard is larger than the Common Lizard, reaching up to 20cm in length. Its distribution is very restricted, being found mainly Surrey, Dorset, Hampshire and in Merseyside. The Sefton population is some 300km from the nearest southern colony and is therefore very vulnerable to a local extinction. In Sefton, it is confined to the coastal sand dune system. Historically it was more widespread but extensive habitat loss led to a drastic reduction in its distribution. The male is a beautiful emerald green with a brown stripe along its back with two grey stripes on either side. The female is a duller brown, but still possessing the stripes. Usually in late May the Sand Lizard lays eggs which are buried in warm sand. Because of its rarity, the Sand Lizard and its home and habitat are fully protected under British and European Law.
The Slow-worm looks like a snake, but is in fact a legless lizard. Unlike snakes, it possess eyelids and is able to drop its tail to escape from predators. It also gives birth to live young. Slow-worms prefer rough undisturbed grasslands but can occasionally be found in gardens. The male has a grey colouration, with the female being a golden brown with a thin line down the back. It can often be found taking refuge under stones or logs and even corrugated iron and other discarded waste. The Slow-worm is also protected by law in the UK.
The two species of snake found in our area are the Adder and the Grass Snake, although the Grass Snake may now not occur in the region.
The Grass Snake is Britain’s biggest snake, up to a meter in length. It is grey-green in colour with a distinctive yellow and black marking around the neck. Along its sides are black bars and it has a more finely pointed tail than the Adder. It would once have been common within the region but many of the wet-grasslands within which it could be found have been lost. There are considerations to re-establish the snake at some localities within the region. Grass Snakes are protected by law in Great Britain against being killed, injured, sold or traded in any way.
The Adder is a member of the viper family and is Britain’s only venomous snake. It is easily recognised by the zigzag stripe down its back. The general colour varies, the male generally being ash-grey and the female brown. The tail tends to end quickly and looks a little stumpy. Adders prefer open moors and heathland and populations in the northwest are known on the Bowland fells and at some localities along the Pennines. They give birth to live young and feed mostly on rodents and lizards. Along with all our snakes, Adders are protected in the UK by law.
There are quite regular records of live and stranded Leatherback Turtles in and around the Irish Sea. This species travels north to the waters off the British Isles every year following the swarms of jellyfish that form its prey. When fully grown it weighs as much as a small car!
Loggerhead Turtle, Ridley’s Turtle and Green Turtle are found very occasionally in the Irish Sea but are generally unwell or dead when discovered. They have strayed or been swept out of their natural range further south into our colder waters.
The Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Lancashire are currently looking for people to help with recording, for more information about their work, or to submit your records, visit www.argsl.org.uk