Amphibia Found in the Garden
Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrates or back-boned animals which occupy a position half-way between the entirely aquaticand the terrestrial reptiles and mammals.
They lay their eggs in water, and the young pass through a tadpole stage during which they breathe by means of gills—they would die if left in the air. Later, they develop normal lungs, the gills disappear, and the amphibians take to the land, but even then they must return to the water to breed. Because of this need for water, they are most likely to be found near ponds, ditches or very slow-flowing rivers.
The amphibians in Great Britain are the common and the edible frog; the common and the natterjack toad; the common or smooth newt, the palmate and the crested newt. There are no edible frogs, toads or crested newts in Ireland. The common frog was introduced there in the 18th century and is now common.
The edible frog was introduced from the Continent and is now fairly common in south-east England. As its name suggests, this is the creature which provides the French delicacy ‘frogs-legs’. It may be distinguished from the common frog by the presence of a light green or yellow line down the centre of the back with, usually, a brownish line along either side. A further identifying characteristic is that the top of the thigh is spotted with black and yellow. It measures a little over 4 in. and is slightly larger than the well-known common frog. There is a characteristic hump on the back in both species.
Frogs will breed in any pool, however temporary, and up to 2,000 eggs are laid by each female every spring. These are small when laid, but quickly absorb water and swell to form a shapeless mass of spawn.
Frogs live on insects, worms and slugs and so it is well worth trying to make the garden attractive to them. A pond is, of course, the surest means of attracting them, but even then a pair may have to be introduced in the first instance. If this is attempted, remember that male frogs are a good deal smaller than the females. In the absence of a pond, frogs will seek patches of long damp grass, rhubarb beds and other moist places where they can shelter from the sun.
Toads may be distinguished from frogs by their dry, warty skin, their flat backs without the hump of the frogs, and their shorter hind legs. They are generally smaller than frogs, males being about 2-½ in., females 3-1/2 in., and very occasionally even 4-½ in. The natterjack toad, which does not exceed 3 in. in either sex, has a thin yellow line clown the centre of the back. It runs rather than hops and calls loudly during April, May and June.
Toads prefer deeper, more permanent water for breeding than frogs and will travel several miles across difficult country to a favoured site. Their spawn is laid in long strings.
Like frogs, toads are entirely beneficial in the garden, living on caterpillars, slugs, woodlice, millipedes and insects. They feed at dusk and like to spend the day in the shade of a plant, frequently achieving remarkable camouflage by scooping out a shallow hole in theso that their rough backs blend with the surrounding earth.
In appearance newts resemble small lizards. They are much more aquatic than frogs or toads, spending most of the spring and summer in the water. When they finally leave their breeding pool in the autumn, they do not wander very far away; after a brief while they seek a hole or crevice near the water and hibernate until the spring. This means they are unlikely to be found in gardens that have no pond nearby. If they are introduced to a garden pond it is necessary to make sure that no overhanging lip prevents them from leaving the water when they wish.
Newts lay their eggs singly, attaching them to the leaves of water plants, and it is easy to overlook their presence as there is no conspicuous mass of spawn to identify them.
Like frogs and toads, newts are insectivorous and an asset to the garden.
During the breeding season the males have bright orange underparts and develop crests, but do not assume that a newt with a crest is necessarily a crested newt, which is the largest of the three newt species. The crested newt grows to 6 in. and both sexes have big serrated crests running down the centres of their backs. The common or smooth newt reaches 3 to -I in. and the palmate newt is slightly smaller. The palmate is so-called because in spring the hind feet of the male are webbed. But it is safer to recognize it by the rather square-cut appearance of the tail, from which projects a black central thread, as this feature remains throughout the year, whereas the webs on the hind feet are much reduced by the time the animal leaves the water after the breeding season.