Vegan Life takes a look at the Natterjack Toad, the rarest of six native amphibians living in the British Isles
Labelled as Europe’s noisiest amphibian, the Natterjack Toad (epidalea calamita – formerly bufo calamita), is the rarest of the six native amphibians currently living in the British Isles. Superficially similar in appearance to the much more widespread common toad (bufo bufo), the most obvious distinguishing feature of the natterjack is a narrow and yellow stripe running down the animal’s entire back. An animal of coastal dunes and lowland heaths, the natterjack is a compulsive burrower. They dig tunnels in sand at night and can disappear from sight in just a few minutes. In the past 100 years natterjack toads have vanished from more than 75% of sites where they were previously recorded.
The Natterjack has suffered a substantial decline in numbers and range during the 20th century. According to John Buckley, conservation officer at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), natterjacks are present on about 60 sites in Britain and occur on a small number of sites in south–west Ireland.
Natterjacks are incredibly picky about where they spawn, one of the reasons the species is declining. They require shallow ponds for reproduction, and these are often seasonal pools. The ponds need to be almost completely free of vegetation. The ponds also need to be free of predators such as dragonfly larvae, beetle larvae and even common toads. Common toad tadpoles will eat natterjack tadpoles.
Also found in sandy heathlands, natterjack numbers have been affected by climate change, development, and coastal flood defences programmes that have reduced large areas of their favoured habitats.
As an endangered species, natterjack toads are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. This makes it an offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb them; damage or destroy their habitat; or possess them or sell or trade them in any way. This also applies to larval stages and eggs.
Adult natterjack toads will pretty much swallow any living animal that they can manage including beetles, slugs, snails, worms, spiders and even larger prey like newts, young frogs and even small mice. John Buckley says: “They hunt at night on areas of bare ground or short vegetation, particularly the grazed areas of the merse, heathland and nearby farmland.” According to Scottish Natural Heritage: “Tadpoles are thought to eat algae and a variety of tiny animals found in the soil and water, and in some cases even each other.”
Adults reach around 60–70mm in length, with females being marginally larger than males.
As a result of their poisonous skin, natterjacks are rarely predated upon and can live for up to 15 years.
Natterjack toads are usually a pale brown to green colour with an abundance of warts covering the back, quite often these will have yellow or red tips. They have a golden yellow iris with horizontal pupil.
John said: “During the breeding season (April – July)males make loud rasping calls from the edge of a pond at night in an effort to attract a female. Spawn is laid in single strings (spawn of a
common toad appears in double strings) and the tadpoles are small and black with a grey spot on the throat. The yellow dorsal stripe is clearly visible on juvenile Natterjack toadlets.” Spawning occurs in shallow water and each female can produce from 1500 to 7500 eggs which will take around one week to hatch. Most surviving toadlets are ready to leave the water in June or July, however it will be four or five years before they are fully grown and have reached sexual maturity.
Did you know?
- Unlike common toads, natterjacks are fast movers and prefer to run rather than hop or walk. As a result, they are often referred to as the ‘running toad’.
- Natterjacks have a very loud and distinctive mating call, amplified by the single vocal sack found under the chin of the male animal. The louder the call the more chance of attracting a
female. According to John Buckley, on one occasion a clever young male was seen calling from inside a jam jar which amplified the sound.
- Known to be awful swimmers, natterjacks will drown in deep water if they cannot get ashore quickly.
- The natterjack has the ability to darken or lighten the colour of its skin, in order to camouflage itself in its environment.