Dumfries and Galloway can boast all nine of the terrestrial species of amphibians and reptiles occuring in Scotland. The Common Frog Rana temporaria, though under recorded, is widely distributed throughout the region. With smooth, moist skin varying from yellow to brown or grey, it spends surprisingly little time in water, except when breeding, and needs damp, terrestrial habitat such as rough grassland, gardens and woods for shelter and feeding. Although similar in appearance, the Common Toad Bufo bufo is stockier with warty skin, varying from greyish brown to dull green, and copper-coloured eyes with a horizontal pupil. This species is rarely found in garden ponds, preferring to breed in larger ponds than frogs.
Several colonies of Natterjack Toad Bufo calamita can be found along the north Solway, the only sites in Scotland. The species is strictly protected under European law and many of the sites are designated to aid the toads’ conservation. The Natterjack can be found where there is closely grazed vegetation, along with bare earth or sand with a suitable breeding pool. The species has suffered declines due to losses of this habitat through changes in agricultural practices, such as grazing, vegetation changes and recreational development.
All three native newts can be found in the region. The Common or Smooth Newt Triturus vulgaris and its close relative the Palmate Newt Triturus helveticus occur in similar habitats. Both species occur in ponds with a range of submerged and emergent vegetation, though the latter is more tolerant of acidic waters. The Smooth Newt has a whitish underbelly and throat, the male having a central broad orange strip covered in brown spots, developing a deep wavy crest in the breeding season. The Palmate Newt has a dull colouring of brown with black stippling, with few spots on the underbelly and none on the throat area. When breeding, the male’s hind feet become black and webbed and have a hair-like filament on the end of the tail. Like the Natterjack, the Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus is a European protected species. It is known to occur in the lowland areas of Dumfries and Galloway, although new colonies are still being found. It is the largest of the three newt species, with very dark brown or black colouration and bright orange underparts. During the breeding season, the male develops a jagged edged crest on its back.
Three reptile species are currently known to occur. The Slow Worm Anguis fragilis can be found throughout the region and is often mistakenly described as a snake; in fact it is a legless lizard. Colours can range from light grey to dark coppery brown, and males occasionally have distinct bluespots. Slow Worms live in a range of habitats, including woodland edges, roadside verges and gardens where they often fall victim to cats. The Adder Vipera berus has suffered significant declines in the last 100 years. These small snakes are recognisable by the dark zigzag stripe down their backs. They are timid creatures, undeserving of their fearsome reputation. They are common on the coastline and in the Southern Uplands, although habitat loss due to afforestation of bogs and heathland has probably led to a reduction in numbers. Adders formerly suffered widespread persecution and large numbers were killed each year due to misconceived fear and prejudice. Today the species is protected by law and it is illegal to kill, injure or harm them.
The Common or Viviparous Lizard Lacerta vivipara, has short legs, a rounded snout and a thick head in relation to its body, and is the only other reptile species found in the region. The majority are brown in colour; however, there is the occasional green individual. Each sex has different coloured underparts, with the male being orange with dark spots and the female cream in colour. The lizard can be found in various habitats, including damp, tussocky grassland, heathland and woodland rides. Basking is important, as with all reptiles, and in good areas, it is possible to find groups of lizards basking together.
The Solway is also one of the hotspots for sightings and strandings of Leatherback Turtles Dermochelys coriacea which are now known to regularly visit UK coastal waters. Turtles feed on jellyfish which swarm during the summer months in our seas, and Leatherbacks are thought to migrate from their southern hemisphere breeding grounds to take advantage of this food resource. Floating marine litter, such as plastic bags and balloons, can be mistaken by turtles for jellyfish and can lead to death by blocking their digestive system.
For more information:
The Dumfries and Galloway Amphibian and Reptile Group website provides more information about individual species
Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe by Nick Arnold. 2002. ISBN 0002199645
Amphibians and Reptiles of Herefordshire by Nigel Hand, Will Watson and Phyl King. (This is a very good book for beginners, although it isn't local to Dumfries and Galloway, it is a good guide to the ecology and identification of reptiles and amphibians).