I have always had a strong interest in, and fondness for amphibians. My childhood home was blessed with a pond populous in frogs, and whilst exploring nearby woods and fields I often stumbled upon other frogs, toads and even the occasional newt.
My interest in these animals remained strong throughout my university education. My second year dissertation reviewed the worldwide impact of the highly virulent Chytrid fungus on amphibian fauna.
This passion I hold for amphibians, along with my desire to begin a career in ecological consultancy led me to recently complete a short course in ‘amphibian ID and monitoring’, a course which has introduced me to the basics of surveying these animals through tasks such as; identifying appropriate habitats, searching for evidence of mating/reproduction, and handling/identifying native British amphibians.
Whilst the theoretical side covered all native amphibian species, the survey itself was focused on newts (the unsuccessful aim was to find a Great Crested Newt), and employed bottle traps to collect the specimens.
Bottle traps, the industry standard tools for newt capture are incredibly cheap and easy to make. By simply cutting the top third or so from a 2 litre plastic pop bottle, inversing it and slotting it back into the bottle main body you have a template for your trap. All that remains is to seal the 2 sections together and melt a hole through which a bamboo cane or similar can be inserted, as in the pictures below.
Prepared traps should then be pinned, partially submerged in ponds, making sure a few inches of air remains at the top of the bottle.
We placed 15 bottle traps between 3 different ponds on the evening prior to the course. This gave plenty of time for the newts, which are most active at night, to be caught. Conversely, 15 traps is not a sufficient number of traps with which to obtain scientifically useful data, however it is suitable to gain some indication of the species present at the site.
Unfortunately only one of the ponds surveyed actually bought up evidence of newt presence, however within this pond a fairly large number of specimens were caught. Captured specimens included both male and female palmate and common newts, along with many juveniles harder to identify.
- Smooth newt. Identifiable by spots along whole underside including chin. Probably male due to he size of its spots.
- Palmate newt, identifiable from lack of spots under chin, Likely female as it lacks oversized hind feet
- The distinctive oversized hind feet and filament at the end of this species tale identify it as a Palmate male
- This specimen bears a crest along its entire length, as well as a spotted underbelly and chin. These are characteristic of a male Smooth Newt
As well as collecting newt specimens we were also looking for evidence of mating activity within the ponds. Whilst juvenile presence is evidence of successful mating last year, the best evidence for the current season is the presence of eggs. Advantageously, newts have a characteristic and easily identifiable technique of egg-laying.
A few days after (internal) fertilization, females deposit eggs individually, taking care to fold each one in submerged small leaves that will offer protection from predation. Observation of a folded leaf, like that shown in the picture below can be considered evidence of the presence of one egg, without the need to peel it open and risk exposing its contents.
- Folded leaf containing newt egg
Partaking in this course gave me the opportunity to attain a useful new combination of knowledge and skills which together are sufficient for me to conduct some surveys of my own in the future. I am waiting to here if the landowner of the site at which this survey was based (Phillips Park) will allow me to set some of my own traps on site, in order to further assess newt presence across various ponds.
- Smooth Newt
Whilst collecting newt traps, the presence of other amphibians, such as the toad below, was also noted.
- Common Toad