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Herpetofauna

Introduction

Amphibian and reptile (herpetofauna) recording in the county has gained momentum in the nineties and with the development of an electronic database these records can be used to produce distribution maps at a 1 km squared resolution. Over 3500 records are in the Warwickshire database with new ones being entered all the time. Each record is a six figure ordnance survey reference and is not technically a ‘site’, as there may be several records for one specific ‘site’. The mapping facility enables any records within a 1 kilometre square to be summated in order to produce a series of distribution maps of Warwickshire’s herpetofauna.

 

The UK supports six native species of amphibian and six native species of reptile. In Warwickshire there are four amphibian species and four reptile species (asterisked).

 

 

 Amphibians    Reptiles
 Common Frog (Rana temporaria)*    Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)*
 Common Toad (Bufo bufo)*    Adder (Vipera berus)*
 Natterjack Toad (Epldalea calamita)    Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
 Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)*    Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara)*
 Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)    Slow Worm(Anguis fragilis)*
 Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)*    Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)

 

More detailed information about some of our amphibians and reptiles is given further down the page - or click on the link in the table above. You can obtain more information about all of the British Herps at The Herpetological Conservation Trust's website.

 

The Natterjack Toad, Sand Lizard and Smooth Snake are rare species and are confined to specific habitats such as sand dunes and lowland heath elsewhere in Britain.

The Palmate newt (Triturus helveticus), despite being frequently recorded in Wales, West England and Scotland has not been recorded in Warwickshire after the second World War, although we do have unconfirmed reports from Nuneaton and Sutton Park for this species. In the 1901 Victoria County History of Warwickshire the Palmate newt is described as 'very common and abundant on the oolitic hills of Gloucestershire and the near parts of Warwickshire.' The writer mentions that the further from those districts the rarer it becomes and there are no records from North Warwickshire. More survey work, especially in the extreme south of the county around the Warwickshire/Gloucestershire/Oxfordshire border is needed to confirm the Palmate newt's definite absence from the county.

Due to their secretive nature, reptiles are under-recorded compared to amphibians which are relatively easy to see during their spring breeding season in ponds and other water bodies. 74% of the records in the database are for amphibians, compared to a mere 26% for reptiles. Surveying for reptiles is very weather-dependent, with reptiles preferring to bask when the air temperature is between 10 - 20 degrees Celsius with no wind. Ideal conditions within this temperature window are sunshine after a rainy spell or an overcast day, when the sun is trying to break through the clouds.

 

Reptiles and Amphibians

 

Reptiles are easily recognised by their dry, scaly skin whereas amphibians skins are moist and lack scales. Unlike warm-blooded birds and mammals, reptiles and amphibians have variable temperatures and gain heat by basking in the sun and live close to the temperature of the air or water that surrounds them. All amphibians need fresh water in which to spawn or deposit their eggs whereas reptiles need warm sites to deposit their eggs or retain the eggs inside the body and give birth to live young. Reptiles and amphibians play an important part in ecological communities and are valuable indicators of environmental change.

 

Reptiles and Amphibians in Decline

 

Numbers of reptiles and amphibians continue to decline. The threats facing them include habitat loss through urbanisation, intensive agriculture, habitat degradation, as well as changes in land management, pollution and persecution. Ponds have been filled in and are not created and important retile breeding sites have been knowingly or unknowingly destroyed. Unusual mass mortalities of frogs have been reported and lizards can build up a high level of insecticides in their bodies which has a toxic effect, as well as depriving them of their insect prey.

 


 

 

More Information about some of Warwickshire's Amphibians and Reptiles

 

The Adder

 

Local status and distribution
The Adder is rare in Warwickshire and only occurs at a few known sites in the county making up only 5% of the total reptile records. In Victorian times the Adder was described as not abundant in the county, being absent from alluvial areas and mainly found in sandy or stony places.
Description
The Adder is a small, stout snake with a distinctive continuous zigzag on the back. It has a well defined head compared to the grass snake and rarely grows longer than 65cm (2 feet). Body colour is variable, males are usually grey or buff with a black zigzag whereas females are brown with a dark brown zigzag. The Adder is the only native snake having elliptical, as opposed to round pupils. Occasionally black (melanistic) Adders are found but none have been reported in Warwickshire.
Ecology
The Adder is typically found in heathland and moorland but in Warwickshire it is associated with railway embankments, rough grassland and scrub. Male snakes are the first to come out of hibernation, females emerging a couple of weeks later. Mating takes place in April and early May and is often preceded by a ritualistic behaviour pattern by the males, who dance with each other in a trial of strength to gain access to the female who is often in the near vicinity. Female Adders do not breed every year because they need at least one intervening year to feed up and regain breeding condition. Once pregnant they cease to feed for the 3 to 4 month gestation period whilst the embryos develop inside the body. Six to twenty young are born alive, usually by the beginning of September.
The Adder is Britain's only venomous snake and uses venom for catching prey, usually small mammals and lizards. They are very timid animals and usually move away quickly when disturbed, but will bite in defence if trodden upon or handled. If bitten, medical assistance should be sought, but statistically one stands more chance of dying from a bee or wasp sting than an Adder bite.
Protection status
Some protection under the Berne Convention as to their exploitation.
Protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Schedule 5. from trade, injury and killing.

 


 

The Common or Viviparous Lizard

 

Local status and distribution
The Common lizard has a limited distribution in Warwickshire and is absent from many parts of the county. However it is Warwickshire's second most common reptile accounting for 26% of the total reptile records. The Common lizard was not abundant in Victorian times but the existence of several colonies at the foot of Edgehill, a common near Claverdon and the stone walls around the Priory in Warwick had been reported. It is interesting to note that in the 1901 Victoria County History of Warwickshire it is stated that the Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) had been observed at two places on the Ridgeway near Alcester and that it was rare at these localities. Whether these were genuine sightings or that Common lizards were mistaken for Sand lizards cannot be confirmed but there are no later reports of Sand lizards for the county.
Description
Common lizards can be mistaken for newts but are more alert and quick moving if disturbed. They also have a dry scaly skin. Common lizards can reach a length of 18cm (7 inches) but this is rare and most are much smaller. They are variable in colour ranging from brown or yellow-brown to almost green. These green Common lizards should not be confused with Sand lizards. Male Common lizards often have darker backs with a broken striped pattern and a variable number of pale dots edged with black called ocelli. They have yellow or orange bellies which are spotted. with black markings. The female is paler, with a few scattered ocelli and some females have a continuous stripe along the centre of the back. The belly is pale yellow, usually lacking spots. The most reliable method for distinguishing between the sexes is to look for the swelling at the base of the tail in the male. Young Common lizards are very dark coloured compared to the adults and have two rows of pale spots down their back.
Ecology
The majority of sightings have been on grassland, hedgerows, woodland edges, road and railway embankments. Common lizards emerge from hibernation sometimes as early as mid- February if the weather is mild. Initially they will spend long periods basking and they start to mate in April and May. The males are territorial and compete for the females, fights being commonplace. The eggs are retained in the body and 4-10 live young are born under cover, in late July or August in a membranous sac. The young lizard ruptures the membrane with a special egg-tooth and is independent of the mother. Common lizards eat a variety of insect and other invertebrate species.
Protection status
Some protection under the Berne Convention as to their exploitation.
Protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Schedule 5. from trade, injury and killing.

 


 

The Grass Snake

 

Local status and distribution
The Grass snake is widespread throughout the county, with the exception of north-west Warwickshire. It is the most common reptile species in the county constituting 58% of the total reptile records for the county. Many of these Grass snake records are chance encounters with fewer breeding sites recorded and it is the only snake found in populated areas. In Victorian times it was described as being a common and generally distributed species.
Description
The Grass snake is the largest native snake, the males reaching up to 90cm (3 feet) in size. Mature females can be up to 150cm (5 feet) long, but it is rare for females to reach this size. Colouration is variable and grass snakes are usually a shade of olive green, but brown and grey snakes are not uncommon. Their bodies bear fine black vertical bars and/or spots running along their sides. It has a characteristic orange, yellow or white collar round the neck.
Ecology
Grass snakes are found in a variety of habitats throughout the county but they tend to prefer habitats associated with water where they feed on amphibians and fish. Grass snakes start to emerge from hibernation in March and April and mating soon occurs. The grass snake is the only native snake to lay eggs. This takes place in June/July in piles of vegetation, manure and compost heaps where the warmth from decomposition helps to incubate the 10 - 40 eggs laid. Often several females can share the same egg-laying site and the young snakes hatch in August/September. Grass snakes are completely harmless to humans, but if disturbed or handled can bite and exude a nasty-smelling secretion from their anal gland.
Protection status
Some protection under the Berne Convention as to their exploitation.
Protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Schedule 5. from trade, injury and killing.