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In the UK there are two distinct types of amphibians, the frogs and toads (without tails) and the newts (with tails). Only the common frog and smooth newt are found in Northern Ireland.
UK amphibians are cold-blooded animals that enter a state of semi-dormancy called brumation (similar to hibernation) during the coldest parts of the year to survive. They brumate in burrows, crevices, under logs, in leaf litter and even under water.
They use water to reproduce. As temperatures rise early in the year they make their way to a suitable freshwater pond, or similar, to lay their eggs. Once developed, the young tadpoles hatch from the eggs and metamorphosise into their adult forms over a few weeks.
Frogs and toads
British pool frog, Rana lessonae
This is an extremely endangered amphibian that is only known at a few secret sites following reintroduction work. It is smaller than the common frog and does not have a dark eye patch. Its brown, grainy skin is spotted and it often has a yellow stripe running along its back. Breeding later than the common frog, its spawn is also found in clumps but the eggs are much smaller.
Common frog, Rana temporaria
These small amphibians are quite variable in colour. Ranging from olive-green to brown they can also have spots or stripes on their smooth skin. The brown patch behind their eye and the dark barred markings on their hind legs are the most consistent markings. Common frogs have no tail and mostly jump rather than walk. Frog spawn is laid in clumps,
Common toad, Bufo bufo
Common toads tend to be larger than common frogs. They have warty skin with glands on the back of their heads that bulge outwards, and no dark patch behind the eye. They are usually brown or green-grey in colour. Common toads have no tail and mostly hop rather than walk. Common toad spawn is laid in double row strings.
Natterjack toad, Bufo calamita
This endangered species is distinguished from the common toad by a yellow stripe along the back. It has warty skin, the warts can be bright red or yellow, and distinctive bulges on the back of the head. It also tends to walk or run rather than jump and is sometimes known as the running toad. Britain is at the very western edge of its range. Natterjack toad spawn is laid in a single row string.
Great crested newt, Triturus cristatus
A European Protected Species, the great crested newt is dark brown with a row of white spots on its head and body. The male is smaller than the female and will develop the large and distinctive waved crest along its back during the breeding season. The female lays eggs individually on aquatic plants.
Palmate newt, Lissotriton helveticus
This is the smallest native newt in the UK. Males are an olive-brown colour, females can be yellow to olive-brown. Males also develop a low, smooth dorsal crest during the breeding season. Palmate newts have an unspotted pinkish throat and yellow bellies with small black spots. The female lays eggs individually and wraps them in the leaves of aquatic plants.
Smooth newt, Lissotriton vulgaris
This is the most widespread newt in the UK. It is smaller than the great crested newt, but very similar to the palmate newt. However, the males have a much more developed wavy dorsal crest than the palmate newt during the mating season. Both sexes also have dark spots on their white throats, which palmate newts do not. The female lays individual eggs, wrapping each one in the leaf of an aquatic plant.