Where do toads live? You’ll probably say ‘in ponds’ and you’d be half right. There is one species of toad here in the UK which lives in sandy dunes. Its name – the natterjack.
Natterjack toads are quite rare in Britain, though they can be found in some coastal areas. Southwest Ireland, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and northwest England all have small populations and natterjacks have recently been released in Hampshire and Surrey too. They need warm water in order to breed so, with global temperatures rising, perhaps we’ll see more of them here in the future.
Natterjacks look very similar to the much more prolific common toad. But you can tell them apart. Natterjacks are slightly smaller and they also have a yellow stripe running down the middle of their backs. They also have slightly shorter legs and can’t hop. They’re not bad runners though.
It’s a good job natterjacks can run. You see, they are hunters. Most of their diet is made up of invertebrates like insects or spiders, which they catch with a flick of their long and sticky tongues. So why do they have to run? Well, natterjacks are also partial to the odd small lizard. These will run so the natterjack has to chase them!
Running also comes in handy if you want to escape from predators – and the natterjack toad has a few of those! Herons, crows, magpies, weasels, otters, rats, foxes, stoats, hedgehogs, grass snakes and even newts will hunt natterjacks. When they are tadpoles life is even harder. Birds, fish, frogs and insect larvae all eat them. Even adult toads aren’t averse to the occasional tadpole!
As they live in sandy environments, ponds are in short supply for natterjacks. To get around this they make use of temporary pools that form in sandy soil. One female can lay as many as 5,000 eggs in one go. These hatch quickly and eight weeks later have become toadlets. That’s a good thing because the pools are liable to evaporate so the tadpoles have to grow up quickly.
Come the autumn, natterjacks dig burrows for themselves where they will spend the winter hibernating. They emerge next spring to do the whole cycle again. Natterjacks can live for up to 15 years so they can have more than 50,000 offspring. What a lot of children!
If you like toads then you’ll be pleased to hear that we have a quiz devoted to the common toad in the Nature section of our site. It was written for us by Froglife, the UK charity committed to amphibian and reptile conservation and it’s one of over 60 free to play quizzes just waiting for you! Go and take the toady test today!