Guide to UK amphibians: frogs, toads and newts

What is an amphibian? Where do they live? And what species can be found in Britain?

Great crested newt male

Guide to Britain’s amphibians, including native species and where they can be found

From mid-February, especially in the south of England, frogs, toads and newts become active in our ponds. Most native species spawn early to give their young the whole spring and summer to grow rapidly and metamorphise into adulthood before the following winter. But how well do you know our seven native species? 

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Let’s start by exploring what an amphibian actually is.

Toad spawning
Spawning toad ©Getty

What is an amphibian?

The word amphibian means ‘two lives’, an apt name given that these cold-blooded invertebrate spend half of their lives in water and half on land. The amphibian class includes salamanders, caecilians, toads, frogs and newts – the latter three of which can be found in the UK.

Common frog

Amphibians native to the UK

Common frog, Rana Temporaria

Common frog
Common frog taken in a garden pond in Swinton, Greater Manchester

Found in almost any suitable pond, canal, lake or slow-moving river across the UK. It has smooth skin and long legs for jumping. Colour varies from bright green to brown and ochre, with dark patches on the back, legs and behind the eye. Lays clumps of eggs.

Pool frog, Pelophylax Lessonae

Pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae / Rana lessonae)
Pool frog ©Alamy

Thought to be extinct in the UK by the mid-1990s, it was reintroduced to two ponds in Norfolk a decade later, though some unauthorised releases have taken place elsewhere. Mottled green and black in colour and similar in size to the common frog.

Common toad, Bufo Bufo

Common toad
A wild common toad sitting on a mossy log ©Alamy

Warty, rough skin compared to the smooth skin of the common frog, and it crawls rather than hops. Found throughout Britain (absent from Ireland) but prefers deeper water in lakes and ponds, where it lays strings of eggs. The black tadpoles tend to swim in shoals. 

Natterjack toad, Epidalea Calamita

Natterjack toad
Natterjack toad ©Getty

Confined to sand dune systems of Solway, Cumbria, Merseyside and North Wales with scattered populations in southern sandy heaths. Green, cream or brown with shorter legs than the common toad. A swift runner but poor swimmer, with very loud call. Breeds in warm, shallow ponds. 

Smooth newt, Lissotriton Vulgaris

Male common newt, or smooth newt
Male common newt, also know as a smooth newt ©Getty

Up to 10cm long. Widespread throughout the UK in ponds, especially garden pools. Shades of grey and brown; the male develops an orange crest with black spots along the length of its body in the breeding season. Voracious predator of frog tadpoles.

Great crested newt, Triturus Cristatus

Great crested newt male
Great crested newt male ©Alamy

Up to 15cm long with dark or black warty skin. Males have a ‘dragon’ crest along the length of the body that becomes more pronounced in the breeding season. Males have a white flash on the tale; the female’s is yellow. Widespread but declining rapidly due to habitat loss.

Palmate newt, Lissotriton Helveticus

Palmate newt, Triturus helveticus
Male palmate newt, Triturus helveticus ©Getty
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Similar to the smooth newt but found in shallow ponds in acidic soils and can survive in drier conditions than its cousin. Has a yellow belly and pink/yellow throat (spotted in smooth newts). Male doesn’t develop the smooth newt’s orange crest in breeding season.