The natterjack toad is a small to medium-sized, nocturnal toad living in Europe. It and the larger Common toad are the only two toad species living in the British Isles. In western Ireland, this animal is the only native toad. Where other frogs and toads live, the natterjack can be recognized by the yellow stripe running down its back. This animal also has shorter back legs than the common toad relative to its body size. Instead of hopping or walking to get around like most toads do, this animal will run, giving it its nickname of the “running toad.” Natterjacks are a part of the large Bufo genus. Of the around one hundred and fifty species in this genus, only three live in Europe, the common toad, the green toad, and the natterjack toad. The natterjack toad has the smallest range of these three.
During the day time, these animals live in burrows and at night they come out to hunt. Like many toads, these animals prey mainly on invertebrates, including moths and woodlice (roly-polies). They have been known to follow the high-water line of the ocean in search for marine invertebrates.
As a full grown adult, natterjack toads can be up to four inches (10 cm) long or as small as two inches (5 cm). In this species males are generally larger than females. Young natterjack toads, right after metamorphosis, can be as small as .3 inches (7 mm)!
The natterjack toad prefers to live in places characterized by sandy soil and shallow pools. Such places include sand dune systems near the shore, salt marshes, and heathlands with short shrubs and flowers.
Due to its small range in Britain, The natterjack toad is considered an endangered species in this area. In Britain, it is therefore illegal to remove any natterjack toad, adult or tadpole, from its natural habitat. Destroying the habitat of this animal is also illegal. Due to habitat loss, including by natural causes such as trees growing in the heathlands, people have helped create more habitats for these animals. Some of the invading trees have been cut down, and more shallow ponds/pools have been created. Despite their rarity in Britain, they are common across the rest of their range, and the IUCN red list classifies them as “least concern.”
Predators and protection
Natterjack toads have many predators including foxes, otters, hedgehogs, and a variety of birds. The young and eggs are sometimes eaten by fish, birds, frogs, toads, and aquatic insect larvae. Adults normally avoid predators by hiding, but if they are found by a predator, they still have a defense. As the common toad does, natterjack toads will inflate their lungs and stand on their tiptoes in an attempt to make themselves look bigger. Below is a picture of a common toad in this position. If this does not work, natterjack toads can excrete a nasty smelling liquid from their skin in a final attempt to ward off the potential predator.
Around October, these toads get slower due to the cooler weather, and by November, they are all hibernating. The hibernation takes place in burrows which are normally dug by the toads themselves. Despite this, natterjack toads have been known to use burrows made by rabbits, rodents, or even sand martins. Once the weather starts getting warmer, these toads will emerge in March or April. Breeding season starts almost immediately.
This season continues to the end of summer. Males will sit in warm, shallow pools and call loudly to attract a mate. The couple will spawn and the female produces up to 7,500 eggs in one long strand.
Natterjack toads have been called the loudest toads in Europe, and they probably are. The males’ loud call can be heard up to two miles (3 km) away! It is hard to describe the sound of any call so here is a video of a male calling.
About one week after being laid, natterjack toad eggs hatch. After three to eight weeks, the young are completely metamorphosed into toadlets. Because the pools in which the eggs are laid are shallow, they can dry up quickly in the summer sun. These young toads were therefore created with the ability to metamorphose faster than other toads. The common toad for example takes up to twelve weeks to turn into a toadlet. If the natterjack toad took this long, the water might dry up before the young could breathe out of water! If lucky, these young animals can live for up to ten years in the wild or seventeen years in captivity.
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- Smithsonian Handbooks Reptiles and Amphibians. Mark O’Shea and Tim Halliday, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6009-3
- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Natterjack toad – Thomas Brown
- Natterjack toad range – public domain
- Threatened toad: Łukasz Olszewski
- Natterjack toad call – Viridiflavus
- mystery animal -public domain