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Natterjack Toad

The Natterjack Toad is a Western European species being particularly common in Spain and Southern France. In Ireland they are native to only a few parts of Co. Kerry.

It is one of the Lusitanian species and it may be an immigrant from the end of the Ice Age.

Natterjack Toad

The Natterjack is easily recognised by the yellow stripe along the centre of its olive green, wart covered back. These warts can be either yellow, red or orange in colour. The legs are pale grey with green blotches and the underside is also pale grey and spotted with green.

The most important feature that distinguishes the Natterjack from other species of toad is the length of the hind legs. Natterjacks have much shorter hind legs than other toads and frogs. Males and females are of similar size and grow to about seven centimetres (two and a half inches) from snout to vent in about two or three years.

In Cromane the Natterjacks are to be found at Loch Gaineamháin and Dooks, as they prefer habitats with loose, sandy soil, such as sand dunes and lowland bogs and are sometimes found in brackish water. Digging burrows in the soft sand they tend to live in groups.

Natterjacks are mostly nocturnal. They tend to rest under large stones, or in crevices and burrows during the day. Their short limbs mean that they are unable to leap very far, and usually only do so as a startle response before going into their normal running gait (a bit like a lizard). They are also poor swimmers and are known to drown quickly in deep water if they cannot get ashore.

Natterjacks emerge from hibernation in March (usually after common frogs and toads) and head off for their breeding sites. Like common toads, Natterjacks adopt a defence posture when threatened, raising themselves up and inflating their lungs to appear larger.

Adults feed on insects, particularly moths, as well as spiders, woodlice, snails and worms. The tadpoles feed on algae and vegetation until they are about 38 days old when they begin to feed on animal tissue.

Male toads arrive at the breeding sites first, which are usually in very shallow water and are often brackish. The females spawn a string of eggs, maybe 3000-4000, which hatch within 5-8 days. Natterjack toad tadpoles are the smallest of all European tadpoles. Depending on the environmental temperature, metamorphosis can take anywhere between 5 and 16 weeks.

Spawning occurs between April and July and the nighttime croaking of the male can be heard at great distances.

A feature of the Natterjack toad that is common to only a few other species of toad around the world is the fact that it can by quite poisonous to would-be predators. In the case of the Natterjack its coat is poisonous, whereas the Cane Toad in Tropical Northern Australia 'spits' poison from the back of its neck into the faces of attackers or into petfood left unattended outside people's homes.

However, some birds, more notably the seagull and the crow, have learnt the dangers of the Natterjack's skin and eat only the entrails.

Images of Cromane, Co. Kerry