Homes for reptiles and amphibians
16 August 2010
The UK only has a few species of reptile and amphibian, with an almost equal number of alien and introduced species. Most are shy and seldom seen and soon react to vibrations from approaching feet or shadows cast by humans.
Amphibians are frequently encountered in gardens, particularly common frogs, common toads and smooth newts. Some established ponds might have palmate and great crested newts (the latter are specially protected by law). The three reptiles most likely to be encountered are viviparous lizard, slow worm (a legless lizard) and grass snake.
- Common frog – This is perhaps our commonest amphibian. A large proportion of the British population are reliant on garden ponds. They are varying shades of brown with dark patches around the eyes and bands on their legs. Frogs, with their longer legs, tend to hop more than toads.
- Common toad – Like the frog, the toad is a familiar visitor to gardens. It is brown to olive brown in colour with a warty skin. It tends to walk rather than hop and has shorter legs than the frog. They can often be found in drier areas.
- Smooth newt – Our commonest newts. They are brown in colour and during the breeding season, have a yellow to orange belly with black spots extending onto the throat. Males are more spotted above and develop a wavy crest during the breeding season.
- Viviparous (common) lizard – this and grass snake are our commonest reptiles and readily occur in gardens. They are generally brown in colour with black patterning of spots and stripes. They are quick movers and easily slip away undetected from log piles or other warm basking spots.
- Grass snake – These are frequently seen in gardens, often swimming in ponds in search of amphibians or fish. They are the only egg-laying snakes in Britain, often using compost bins in which to lay. They are greyish brown in colour and have a distinct black and yellow band behind the head.
- Slow worm – Although snake-like in appearance, the slow worm is in fact a legless lizard. With a shiny appearance, the males look grey, while the females appear brown. They have dark sides and a thin line along their back. They are frequent garden visitors and love hiding under objects around the garden. Like the grass snake, slow worms are fond of compost heaps.
Helping reptiles and amphibians
A well-managed garden, containing a well-structured lawn, good cover in borders, a pond, rocks and dead wood can provide lots of sheltering, basking and hibernating places for amphibians and reptiles.
A piece of tin left in a discrete, but warm, location will encourage lizards and snakes to shelter underneath and bask on top. A tin makes it easier to see and appreciate these beautiful animals before they slip away, as you can quietly and carefully approach the tin and watch from a safe distance.