May 1, 2017

Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

We get a lot of these little fellows in our garden and I usually remove a few individuals from our cellar each year. Our house is surrounded by farmland and the interconnected network of drainage ditches provides plenty of useful habitat. Like our other species of newt, the Palmate and Great Crested, the adults generally only really frequent ponds during the breeding season between February and June.  The rest of the year is spent foraging and generally being terrestrial creatures, albeit preferring to spend their time in damp places.

Like our other newts, these amphibians hibernate during winter in sheltered places often under logs and stones. To help them out in this respect I’ve built several substantial piles of stones, in certain key areas of our garden. The scientific name for these is hibernacula – protective cases, covering, or structures, in which an organism remains dormant for the winter. I finished my largest yet last summer, so I’m hoping I may record even more newts in the garden this year.

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) – my favourite tautonym

So, tautonymy. The sharper among you will have spotted the scientific name -it shouldn’t be called the Latin name by the way as there’s a fair bit of Greek and other languages used throughout taxonomy, is the same word. Being a language spod as well as a natural history spod, well and a technology spod, hmm maybe just spod then, anyhoo, I really love tautonyms and Natrix natrix is a lovely sounding one.

On this occasion, as luck would have it, the scientific name’s derivation is from the Latin, nare ‘to swim,’ which refers to this species excellent aquatic abilities. The vast majority of a Grass Snake’s prey is amphibian and another of my species of the day tautonyms bufo bufo, features very highly on the menu – first person to give me the common name in the comment box below will win an exciting prize, probably.

This particular individual was a youngster, about 8 inches long and for some idea of scale the red blob in the foreground is a Yew berry.

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

There’s something about the way Toads look at you. No wonder they were considered to be witches familiars. Along with Cats and Owls, they project a general impression of knowing-ness, like they’ve seen it all before “Just let me be on my way monkey boy, you silly evolutionary newcomer.

We’re lucky enough to always have a few of these around the garden. It’s a very old house, and I’m a big fan of leaving rock and log piles liberally dotted around the place, so they have plenty of habitat and prey. Although principally nocturnal, they’re pretty frequent encountered whilst lifting a log or large stone, and depending on the weather conditions thay have the most amazing range of colours. During a dryer spell they tend to be an olive or yellowish green, whereas during damper conditions, they’re often a much darker brown, almost black.

Incidentally, the category I’ve placed Bufo bufo in is called Herpetofauna. This doesn’t directly refer to conventional taxonomy, encompassing as it does, the classes of Reptilia, snakes, turtles, lizards and their kin and Amphibia to which toads belong along with frogs and another favourite order of mine, the newts.

“Herpetology offers benefits to humanity in the study of the role of amphibians and reptiles in global ecology, especially because amphibians are often very sensitive to environmental changes, offering a visible warning to humans that significant changes are taking place.”

Quoth Wikipedia

So it seems particularly fitting as a ‘one a day’ during International Year of Biodiversity.