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Frogs, Toads and Newts - UK Amphibians
There are around 6,200 living species of amphibians. Amphibians is a name for all living tetrapods (four legged vertebrates) that do not have amniotic eggs, their body heat is regulated by their environment and they generally spend most of their time on land. Once known as cold-blooded this group of animals is now called ectothermic. The study of amphibians and reptiles is known as herpetology.

Amphibians tend to head for freshwater for the reproduction cycle. A few may head to brackish water but there are no species that will tolerate sea water. Several hundred frog species need no water at all. An evolutionary adaptation has enabled them to be independent from water. Almost all of these frogs live in rainforests and their eggs are hatched directly into smaller versions of the adult. The tadpole stage happens whilst in the egg. Some species have adapted to semi arid conditions but many still need water to lay their eggs. Amphibian metamorphosis involves lots of changes from the infant to the adult. Four legs appear in order to go on land, gills are replaced by lungs, glands develop on the skin to avoid dehydration, the tail disappears in frogs and toads, the eyes adapt to have vision out of the water and they grow eyelids and an eardrum is developed to lock the middle ear.

The first major group of amphibians evolved from fishes to having legs. They were approx 5 metres long in length and found that the land was safer for them from the sea predators such as sharks. They did however encounter problems in that their skin was not water tight and the food they were used to eating was mainly water based. Amphibians evolved and adapted to their new land based lives and they moved up the food chain where they took the position we now see modern crocodiles. These amphibians ate mega-insects and fish. Amphibians hibernated through the winter which enabled them to be safe from the reptiles.

There are three types of amphibians found in the UK, these are frogs, toads and newts. You can tell the difference between frogs and toads in a few ways. A frog will feel moist when touched but a toad will feel dry. The skin of a frog is smooth whereas a toad is warty. Toads backs appear flatter than a fogs ridged back. A toad will walk whereas a frog will hop.

Closeup of brown frog Rana temporaria - © Tomas Valenta, Bm Association | Common Frog
The common frog (Rana temporaria). Often seen from March to October their lifespan is approx 6 years. The male is approx 70mm long while the female is slightly larger. Although called the common frog their existence is diminishing due to the use of chemicals and their natural habitats being destroyed. 
Once found in abundance in rural areas these frogs are now seeking refuge in urban gardens. Here though they are faced with a whole new set of problems such as cats and feasting on slugs that have been poisoned with pellets.
The frog Rana ridibunda sits on a stone in the pond - © Marcelkudla | Marsh Frog
The marsh frog (Rana ridibunda) can be seen all year round but is rare and limited to the Kent and East Sussex areas. It can be identified by its colourings of green and brown with black markings and a strip of green/yellow going down its back. Often found in streams, ponds and lakes.
Pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae) - © Creativenature1 | Pool Frog
The pool frog (Rana lessonae) became extinct in the UK in the 1990's as a result of their ponds being drained or becoming overgrown. 70 frogs from Sweden were reintroduced to a location in Norfolk recently. The colouring of the frog is olive green with brown markings and a yellow strip down the back.
Great crested newt - © Dirk Ercken | Great Crested Newt
The great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) can be found in many parts of England, Wales and southern Scotland and can grow to 17cms in length. It is illegal to handle these newts as they are a protected species. If they are found to be in any danger then it is important to contact the correct authorities who are able to move them to safety.  They can be seen from February to October, they will then hibernate on dry land through the winter. The colouring of these newts is what gives them their name. A large crest can be seen on the male's back during spring and they have an orange belly. Predators resist from eating them as they release an irritant from their skin and are quite foul tasting.
Palmate Newt - Photo: Christian Fischer (CC3) Palmate Newt
Palmate newts (Triturus helveticus) are found in England, Scotland and Wales usually in or near streams and ponds. They hibernate on dry land from October to march. They can grow to 9cms in length. Identified by the male's webbed back feet and slight extension to the tail.
Smooth Newt - © O2beat | Smooth Newt
Smooth newts (Triturus vulgaris) are widely spread throughout the UK. They can grow to 9cms in length and are sometimes confused with the palmate newts. Smooth newts have spotted throats and have orange bellies in the summer however there are albino versions that are very pale coloured. Smooth newts walk very slowly and are quite small. They head for their breeding ponds once out of hibernation and this causes a few problems for them. They may need to cross roads or tackle kerbs and pavements to get there, many get run over or fall down drains before reaching their destination. It is okay for these newts to be removed from danger by a member of the public as long as they are placed in a suitable spot.
Bufo bufo - portrait of a brown frog, amphibian - © Gucio55 | Common Toad
The common toad (Bufo bufo) can be seen all year round in England, Scotland and Wales. The females are generally longer than the males by approx 25mm. This toad will camouflage its skin colouring to the soil as to blend in. It is our largest amphibian. Easily spotted in the spring when they begin to walk back to the pond in which they were born. They tend to hunt their prey at night and rest motionless in a hiding place through the day. The skin of these toads will burn the mouth of any predator that tries to eat them.
A Natterjack Toad sitting on a stone - © O2beat | Natterjack Toad
The natterjack toad (Bufo calamita) is quite rare in the UK with only certain areas having them. They can grown to approx 70 mms in length. This toad has a yellow line down its back and is often seen moving quite fast. Decline of this species is due to many factors. Their natural habitat is being destroyed or contaminated. The natterjack is also extremely fussy in choosing where it will spawn. They require a certain pH balance in a shallow pool with no predators or vegetation, areas that are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Because of this it is illegal to disturb natterjack toads in any way. If you find some in your garden or local rural area it is best to inform the correct authorities who can ensure that no work will commence whilst they are there.

Amphibian Conservation

It is not just the amphibians in this country that are feeling the wrath of human intervention. Many of the amphibians worldwide are now in decline.  Amphibian populations have been dramatically decreasing in substantial numbers for the last two decades. Factors such as destruction to their habitats, pollution, climate change and predator introduction all play a part in this. The hole in the ozone layer, which seems to have no direct effect on humans, could be damaging amphibians' skin, eyes and eggs because of the UV rays. Discussions relating to the declines though are still ongoing.

Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) are commencing an awareness and fundraising initiative in the hope of gaining conservation for these creatures. ''The EDGE amphibians are amongst the most remarkable and unusual species on the planet and yet an alarming 85% of the top 100 are receiving little or no conservation attention and will become extinct if action is not taken now.” Helen Meredith, EDGE Amphibians coordinator, commented. “These animals may not be cute and cuddly, but hopefully their weird looks and bizarre behaviours will inspire people to support their conservation”.

Forum Questions...
Q: ''I have a small pond and I am worried that my tadpoles will run out of food, can I feed them?''  Mary - Taunton
A: Once hatched your tadpoles will eat its yolk sac and then in most cases turn on the yolk sacs of unhatched tadpoles. Once the yolk sacs have gone they will turn to algae, microscopic organisms and plants, tadpoles are vegetarian until they produce their back legs. You can supplement their food by dropping green veg like lettuce leaves and cabbage into the pond - it can take a day for the lettuce to soften sufficiently so add a leaf a day, they can then eat the leaf from the previous day. It has been advised to boil the lettuce first but this will actually rid the lettuce of its nutrients. Tadpoles - © Let's Go Gardening UK
Once your tadpoles start growing legs you need to add meat to their diet, I use 'tubifex' and meaty fish pellets from the local pet shop, I have heard mince, dog & cat food biscuits are good as well. Be careful not to add too much food as this will rot and end up fouling the water. Also do not top the water up in your pond with tap water as the chlorine is toxic to the tadpoles, use rainwater from a water butt or tap water that has been left for a couple of days for the chlorine to evaporate.- Bill
Q: ''My frog spawn has turned white, is it dead?''  Alan - York
A: It is very likely Alan. When frog spawn turns a milky white colour it usually means it has been hit by a hard frost. This is common as the Spring temperature fluctuates on an annual basis. You may find some tadpoles will hatch from a couple of inches further down and they will find themselves with an abundance of yolk sacs as food and will get a very good start in life. In some cases all the spawn will have been affected.
All is not lost, in a year that tadpoles fail, newts gain the advantage. Tadpoles will eat newt eggs and newt larvae thus - no tadpoles, more newts. I noticed this back in 2008, a late frost hit the spawn in my pond and that summer I noticed a dramatic increase in the newt larvae population. This proves to me that actually nature is in balance and we should not interfere too much. - Bill


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Title Photo: Common frog sitting in the grass - © Mario Meress |

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