Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita)

Spanish: Sapo Corredor
SizeBody length at metamorphosis: 7-10 mm
Adult body length: 50 - 70 mm

The natterjack toad is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is endangered in the UK. Fully protected by schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, listed under Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive.

The chief distinguishing feature of the natterjack toad (Bufo calamita) is the yellow stripe down its back. Shorter hind legs also tell the natterjack toad apart from the common toad and it has a tendency to run instead of hopping or walking, which is why it is sometimes called the running toad.

Natterjack toads are found across much of western Europe. Britain marks the western edge of its range but they have never been widespread. In the UK the largest concentration of populations is in the north-west coast of England with other colonies found in East Anglia, Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and Staffordshire, the Solway coast and North Wales. Natterjacks also occur in south-west Ireland where it is the only native toad.

This species is confined to places characterised by light, sandy soils and warm, shallow ponds, often near the coast. Sand dune systems, salt marshes and lowland heathland are the natterjack toads' main habitat types.

Natterjack toads emerge from hibernation later than frogs and common toads. Depending on the weather this can be as early as March and as late as June. The males make their surprisingly loud croaking call in the afternoon and evening and often after rain. Shortly after emerging they begin their breeding cycle. Mating takes place in sun-warmed ponds and then males and females leave the water separately. Spawning occurs in shallow water, each female producing from 1500 to 7500 eggs. These hatch in about a week and the tadpoles take a further three to eight weeks to metamorphose into toadlets.

Adults retreat into burrows during warm weather and emerge at night to feed on moths, woodlice and other insects. Along their coastal range, they have been known to follow the strand-line to find food such as sandhoppers and other marine invertebrates.

Hibernation takes place in burrows, usually excavated by the toad, but they are known to use the burrows of other animals such as rabbits, rodents and even sand martins.

Natterjack toads have never been common in the UK and loss of their heathland and sand dune habitats and the drying up of suitable ponds has contributed to their decline. The toad is now severely threatened across much of its European range.

The natterjack toad is the subject of a Biodiversity Species Action Plan and most of their UK sites are now protected, some as nature reserves. Through English Nature's Species Recovery Programme, work has focused on maintaining suitable ponds and, where possible, constructing new ones. New ponds must share the characteristics of naturally occurring ones. They must be shallow in order to warm up swiftly during the day and have gently sloping sides to enable the adults and toadlets to climb out. Re-introduction programmes have also begun in order to conserve this unusual amphibian. Natterjack toads are fully protected by law in the UK and it is illegal to capture, kill, disturb or injure the animals or to destroy or damage their breeding sites or resting places.

See the Herpetological Conservation Trust site on:

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)