I get contacted a lot by people who come across amphibians and sometimes reptiles in their gardens. Up here in the North East of England it's more commonly a wandering toad, newt or frog.
Some lucky folk in rural Northumberland do have slow worms or common lizards visiting or residing in their gardens. One caller many years ago did get adders visiting during the summer months. I was quite jealous I have to be honest.
The usual case is that the person making the enquiry is surprised that an
amphibian is on dry land and their initial reaction is to pick it up and move it
to the nearest pond. It's very thoughful but most often not what the animal
wants. If it's on land it's there because it wants to be.
Amphibians spend a large amount of their time out of water.
Lets begin with their life cycle.
Once they have metamorphosed into miniature newts, frogs or toads and emerged from their ponds they will dispers into the surrounding environment and look for shelter, a food supply and somewhere to hibernate. Often this can all be done in one good place such as a stone wall, dense hedge with lots of undergrowth or a log pile such as the one you're going to build in your garden after reading this. In the mean time sit tight, there's more.
These young juveniles will remain on land until it is time to breed.
Now depending on species, growth rate and several other factors.
Usually between three to four years for most species.
Sometimes juvenile frogs will spend the summer months in a pond but often
they remain terrestrial until it's breeding time.
So when they come of age they begin to make the journey from where they have spent the winter to where they want to breed. Often they are drawn to where they grew up, but frogs and the smaller newt species are not so fusy, and will often use the first decent looking body of water they come across. Frogs especially seem to happily breed in ditches, shallow pools and flooded tyre ruts made by forestry vehicles. The future does not bode well for these as the water body can often dry up before the tadpoles emerge. Hey ho, such is life.
Frogs arrive to spawn in February closely followed by palmate newts, smooth newts then toads and great crested newts. The males court and mate with the females as soon as they can and much fun can be had by observing their frenetic activity and chorusing.
Then once spawning has taken place many of the animals leave the ponds. Male frogs often hang around ponds throughout the summer basking on the edges in amongst the vegetation. Female newts, having to lay their eggs one at a time, spend many months depositing tiny eggs into folded leaves. By October the ponds are all but deserted. Late developers will spend the winter hibernating in the murky depths.
So amphibians do spend many months wandering about. You may not have a pond of your own or know of any in your neighbourhood but fear not, those tiny warty creatures will find their way in their own good time. Some will travel several miles in the course of a year. So if you do come across one, let it be, unless it is in imminent danger of being mowed, hoed, raked or dug over.
Reptiles are a different matter. Once in a place they tend to stay put unless
disturbed on a regular basis. Slow worms are great to have in a garden.
Grass snakes will make use of compost heaps to lay their eggs in
so please resist the urge to turn your heap until October by which time eggs
should have hatched.
Common lizards are fleeting and will keep you entertained as they scuttle
through your vegetation or bask on a wall.
Adders might be cause for concern if you have children or pets but so long
as you offer them some space and respect I know of people who allow
them into their gardens. They do control rodents, so this might be a blessing
for some of you.
Please record any sightings with your local ARG group natural history society or directly onto The Record Pool. This sort of information is very valuable as these animals are very under recorded and little is known about their distribution.