Alpine newts in Yorkshire!

Today I visited some ponds and streams in Yorkshire with Carl Corbidge and his daughter Sasha where there are introduced populations of the Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris).

Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris)

This species adapts well to the cool British climate as its natural range on the European continent, especially in the south, consists of cold, mountainous areas which are often covered with snow for many months of the year.  Although in the north of France, the Netherlands, Germany etc they usually inhabit woodland ponds and streams. First we explored a ditch at the edge of a field and found numerous well developed larvae of both the Alpine newt and the Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). At this time of year the only way to find an adult newt was to lift ground cover, or wait for dark if it was raining, which it wasn’t. Moving on to a small woodland stream we found a few logs and other debris to turn, and luckily I was able to find a nice adult Alpine newt. According to recent studies the Alpine newt has taken over drastically from the two species of native newt found in this area of Yorkshire, however the populations although locally common do not seem to spread too far.

Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris)

Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris)

Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris) larvae

Ditch with many larvae of Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris) and Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) (C) Carl Corbidge

By Matt Wilson

Field night: Amphibians in the rain!

After a successful day (see previous post), Carl and I headed for the coast in the early evening to a sand dune site where the rare Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita) can be found. Although I have seen many hundreds of Natterjacks in France and Spain I have never actually observed a specimen in the UK, where it is found at only 60 sites across the entire country and Ireland.

Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

We had been told that this was not an ideal time of year to search for them and finding any would be very difficult, but my instinct told me that it would still be possible. We were very encouraged by the fact that it was raining heavily just before dusk and continued to do so throughout the night. Just as night fell we started walking with our torches along some quiet roads and paths and found over 50 Common toads (Bufo bufo) out hunting for food in the rain, from very small juveniles to large adult females. Walking further we also came across a female Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) crossing one of the small paths and 4-5 Common frogs (Rana temporaria). Walking through some coastal pine forest we found more frogs and toads on the move before entering the open sand dune system. In the distance we could see another toad sat on the sandy path, on approaching we were very happy to see it was not another Common toad, but a Natterjack toad! After this nice find we searched for around another 45 minutes, only finding many more common toads but unfortunately no more Natterjacks. We decided to call it a night, and went back to the car, completely drenched, but very pleased with our observations.

Common toad (Bufo bufo)

Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

Common frog (Rana temporaria)

Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

In addition, the next evening (19th) I went for a quick walk around my village at night in the rain and found several specimens of a further species, the Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus).

Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

By Matt Wilson

Field day: 18th September

Today I visited some areas of south Yorkshire and the Peak District with Carl Corbidge in search of some amphibians and reptiles. The last few weeks have been extremely wet, and I was hoping that a small break in the weather would bring out some species of reptile. First stop was a site where we have previously seen Grass snakes (Natrix natrix), no snakes this time despite ideal weather with breaks of sun through the clouds and little wind. However, on turning some logs and other debris we found two Great crested newts (Triturus cristatus).

Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus)

Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus)

After these nice finds we decided that the weather was quite favorable for reptiles so we moved onto an area of moorland which is good place in the springtime to find Adders (Vipera berus). Within five minutes we found a male specimen basking at the base of some bracken, but shortly afterwards the dark clouds and wind came along so this was the only adder we could find.

Adder (Vipera berus)

Adder (Vipera berus)

Adder (Vipera berus)

One species that does not require specific weather conditions in the summer and autumn is the Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis), and driving further south we stopped at a nice area for the species. Turning some more debris and rocks we found six specimens, including a gravid female and a newly born animal. In addition Carl found an unusually coloured Common toad (Bufo bufo) under a piece of rubbish.

Newborn Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis)

Newborn Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis)

Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis)

Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis)

Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis)

Slow-worm (Anguis fragilis)

By Matt Wilson

Antikythera: geckos, cat snakes and an impossible to reach islet!

In August my Greek friend Ilias Strachinis from Thessaloniki (www.herpetofauna.gr, also see my trip report from Northern Greece), visited a tiny island of the north-west coast of Crete called Antikythera. Ilias had gone to a considerable amount of trouble to reach this fairly inaccessible island but finally arrived there by boat at Antikythera’s only town called Potamos, and where the majority of the 45 island inhabitants live.

Cat snake (Telescopus fallax intermedius) (C) Ilias Strachinis

His reason for being there was to somehow find a way to reach a further, tiny, off shore islet called Pori, where a recently described, large, lacertid lizard is present, known only as Podarcis levendis. Despite several attempts, the local fishermen were not able to take Ilias to Pori so instead some fantastic findings were made on Antikythera itself.

From previous literature only four species of reptile, and no amphibians are known from this island, including Kotschyi’s gecko (Mediodactylus kotschyi), Turkish gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), Snake-eyed skink (Ablepharus kitaibelli) and an endemic subspecies of Cat snake (Telescopus fallax intermedius). By walking around the village and surrounding hillsides at night with a torch Ilias was able to find the two geckos and a number of Cat snakes hunting them on old stone walls. This is the first time I have seen photographs of this subspecies of the cat snake so I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I did:

Antikythera lies between the southern Greek mainland and Crete

By Matt Wilson

October=Menorca

My final trip of 2010 in October will be to the island of Menorca, with a specific target that I missed in Majorca: the Algerian false smooth snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus). After years of correspondence, I will finally be doing a trip together with Jeroen Speybroeck, Jan Van Der Voort and the Belgian HYLA team, as well as Dutch friend Bobby Bok and new Maltese friend Leonard Zammit. Although this trip is dedicated almost entirely to a single snake, some other species new to me will recieve much attention, such as the Moroccan rock lizard (Scelarcis perspicillata) and the Italian wall lizard (Podarcis siculus). While other favorites of mine such as the Stripeless tree frog (Hyla meridionalis), Balearic green toad (Bufo viridis balearicus) and Ladder snake (Rhinechis scalaris) will eagerly be on the herping menu 🙂

By Matt Wilson

What’s so special about this Common toad (Bufo bufo)?

Well, its so special because it is the closest I have found a toad to my house 🙂 While the recent strong winds and heavy rain may be generally depressing, at least it has brought out the common amphibians in my village, this little chap was sitting in the middle of a small, country road surrounded by moorland.

Common toad (Bufo bufo)

Common toad (Bufo bufo)

Common toad (Bufo bufo)

By Matt Wilson