30th August 2023
Calling all animal lovers - it's about to get interesting!
Animal Friends Insurance has teamed up with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust to create this (fun!) fact file all about Natterjack toads.
Every creature - great or small, beautiful or "ugly" - has an important role in our ecosystems. We're raising awareness of these tiny toads because we know they need to be saved and we believe beauty is only skin deep...
What are they?
Natterjack toads are a very rare amphibian.
How big are they?
Adult Natterjack toads are generally between 45mm and 75mm. Roughly the size of a cricket ball! ...
The older the toad, the larger they can grow.
What do they look like?
Some may find them “ugly”, but if you look closely, the Natterjack toad has beautiful markings. They can range from grey-brown to olive in colour, with red, yellow, and orange tips to the bumps on their skin that create a stunning mix of patterns.
Also, to further enhance their unique appearance, the Natterjack has vivid yellowy-green eyes and a creamy-white underbelly.
How does it feel to hold one?
Natterjack toads have soft, bumpy skin, they aren’t slimy!
Where are they from?
Natterjack toads only live in Europe.
They call many places ‘home’. From Portugal and Spain in the southwest, north to the UK and Denmark, and east to Belarus, Natterjacks love living in Europe!
Here in the UK, Natterjack toads are scattered into isolated subpopulations in:
- East Anglia.
- Dumfries and Galloway.
Where do they like to live?
The Natterjack toad likes to live in coastal sand dune systems, coastal grazing marshes, and sandy heaths.
What do they eat?
As adults, Natterjack toads are carnivores (meat-eaters) and enjoy feeding on a variety of invertebrates (e.g. beetles, ants, and flies).
However, in captivity, it has been found that Natterjack tadpoles will tuck into animal and plant material!
What’s their average life span?
In the wild, it’s estimated Natterjack toads can live up to 12 years.
Although, Natterjacks in captivity have been known to reach 15 years of age!
It takes 7-10 days for Natterjack spawn to develop into a tadpole. After 6-8 weeks, tadpoles develop into ‘toadlets’ (how cute?!). Then, Natterjack toadlets take 3-4 years to mature into adults.
How fast are they?
Compared to other amphibians living in the UK, Natterjack toads are rapid. Despite being smaller than 10cm, the Natterjack toad can move quickly over short distances.
Natterjacks have been recorded travelling at speeds of a whopping 70cm per second – which is around 1.56mph!
Like many of us, Natterjack toads aren’t able to maintain their top speed for more than a few seconds.
Are they nocturnal?
Yes, Natterjack toads are nocturnal.
Occasionally, however, you might spot a Natterjack during the day!
Do they mate for life?
Natterjack toads do not mate for life.
Do they live in groups?
While they are tadpoles, Natterjack toads tend to live in large groups (safety in numbers!).
An adult Natterjack toad likes a lonely lifestyle and will stay solitary until breeding season. However, juvenile (young) Natterjacks have been found sunbathing in groups during the summer!
Are they intelligent?
If we compare Natterjacks to dolphins and crows, they aren’t the sharpest tools in the box. Although, it is believed their behaviour is driven by environmental factors instead of problem solving or social communication.
Why are they important?
Natterjack toads are an important part of the food chain in local ecosystems.
While they are spawn and tadpoles, Natterjacks are a valuable food source for other amphibians and invertebrates (e.g. diving beetles).
Should Natterjack tadpoles develop into toads, they will then eat the creatures who once tried to eat them!
Once they reach adulthood, Natterjack toads become an important source of food for herons, otters, corvids (e.g. crows), badgers, and grass snakes.
Also, Natterjacks require specific environmental conditions to breed, which allows them to be used as an indicator for the impacts of climate change – as well as being an early warning system for the sustainability of other species and ecosystems.
How many are there?
It’s difficult to know the exact number of Natterjack toads, due to their highly secretive nature and small size.
However, Natterjack toads are listed as a ‘rare and most threatened’ species by the UK Government.
What is their rate of decline?
Sadly, the Natterjack toad is in decline across the UK.
The most recent IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), EU Conservation Status, and UK Red List assessments conclude that Natterjack toads have seen a significant decline in population and available habitats.
Over 75% of Natterjack colonies in the UK were lost between 1940 and 1970.
Conservation efforts have reduced the rate of decline, but colonies of Natterjack toads are at risk of complete loss from single, extreme events.
Why are they declining?
For the last 70 years, Natterjack toads have been declining due to loss of habitat.
Intense farming processes and building developments are responsible for much of the Natterjack’s habitat loss, but their habitats have also been degraded by pollution, neglect, or improper management.
Climate change and infectious diseases are thought to impact the Natterjack toad’s rate of decline, too.
What are the risks if they become extinct?
If they become extinct, the loss of Natterjack toads will have a devastating impact on their local ecosystems.
Populations of invertebrates, reptiles, birds, mammals, and other amphibians would be affected by the extinction of the Natterjack toad.
Even if Natterjack toads become extinct from one place, the overall health of colonies around Europe would decrease as well – which would eventually lead to complete extinction of the species.
Historically, the Natterjack has been associated with folklore and natural history. Should the Natterjack toad become extinct, it could seriously damage eco-tourism in the UK, which affects communities around the country.
Fun facts from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust
- Natterjack toads don’t hop or jump and are known as the ‘running toad’ because they actively chase their prey.
- They have a weak, toothless jaw and no claws, so Natterjack toads are generally more peaceful than other toad species.
- Famous for having an extremely loud voice, the Natterjack toad is one of the UK’s loudest animals – their calls can be heard up to a kilometre away!
Who are the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust?
The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) is a wildlife charity dedicated to protecting amphibians and reptiles, as well as saving their habitats.
ARC activities support the conservation of frogs, toads, newts, snakes, and lizards.
For more information, visit the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust charity page.