Ear to the Ground with Steve Blacksmith: Time when amphibians start to breed

The Common Frog
The Common Frog

First of all is a reminder to watch out for the start of the amphibian breeding season.

It might become evident when you see frogspawn floating in your local pond, or you might see the animals moving about on mild evenings.

Some of the first to start moving to the breeding ponds are the newt family. We have mostly Palmate Newts, but Common Newts have been confirmed in Todmorden by Charles Flynn and Philip Marshall independently.

A Palmate Newt has been seen out in Littleborough this month, reported by Matt Wilson (it’s the one with the unspotted throat – very easy to identify).

The next to move are the frogs, of which we have just one species– the Common Frog. Their clumps of spawn float high when first laid, then absorb water and sink to the bottom. Each clump is the year’s production of one female. Recording numbers of frogs is done by counting spawn clumps.

The very interesting Common Toad is the last to move, though they can start in late February in very mild weather, over about 8C to 10C. More usually they move in March into early April.

What to do about toads when you see them getting squashed on the road in numbers is a regular concern. You can contact this email: countryside@calderdale.gov.uk or phone Conservation Officer Hugh Firman on 01422 284430. The Countryside Service is coordinating toad patrols throughout the area this year.

If you think you can do the evening volunteering you will need to wear hi-viz (high visibility) tabards, gloves, and use a torch and a bucket to transfer the live toads to the places your local team leader will show you. You will also be counting the various amphibians which the leader will help you with and send in for the records.

The only way to monitor toads is to count them crossing roads. When they get to their ancestral breeding pond the females lay long strings of spawn in the form of clear jelly with black embryos dotted all along it. These are tangled up with water plants or debris and several females’ spawn can be mixed together. It’s much harder to see in the water than frogspawn.

Newts’ spawn is even more difficult to spot. They glue them to water plants singly here and there in late spring. They also very often bend a leaf around the egg with their back legs. How amazing they are – to do that with their back legs, and to produce a glue that sticks underwater.