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24 Jun 2009

Salamanders and toads

One of the creatures we used to see quite often – sometimes alive, often as roadkill – was the fire salamander. This is a form of plump lizard, with a short thick tail, and is very slow moving. It is black, with yellow (broken) stripes down its length. Black and yellow usually serve as a warning that the creature concerned is either dangerous, unpalatable to eat, or both, and this is so with the salamander, which has venom glands all along its body.
Over the years we saw fewer and fewer, and none at all for the last several years. However, this year when digging around the base of a hedge, I inadvertently came across the one shown in the photo above. It does not appear that black, because it is still covered with earth. The salamander is mostly nocturnal, and spends the days underground, usually in a hole previously occupied by a mouse or other rodent. They are harmless to people (unless you ate one, which I don't recommend and have never seen a French recipe for doing so), but not harmless to invertebrates such as snails and worms: see this video of a salamander eating a worm.
They are supposed to be still quite common throughout Europe, but I have never seen one in England. Nor have I ever seen a slow worm in the UK, although they are supposed to be common. I have seen two in our Normandy garden in the last year, which is very encouraging.
We also used to have a fair number of toads. In fact, our elderly neighbour used to laugh at me for going into the garden with a torch in the evening looking for them. One regular visitor was about six inches/14 cm, and we called him Bertie, because he looked like the young King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. The first time we met Bertie was at dusk one August, as we were finishing dinner and the last of a bottle of wine outside the front door. He appeared on the far side of the lawn and marched purposefully, and with dignity – or as much as is possible for a fat warty creature – towards the door, and into the house. I had to remove him to the far end of the garden, but a couple of evenings later he returned, and again went into the house.
Haven't seen him for a while, and there have been very few other toads recently, or frogs, even though I built a pond. Three frogs appeared for a while, but there were no tadpoles. It seems the amphibians are much reduced, by virtue of habitat, climate and weather changes, and I believe some virus.
(There are related posts here and here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice salamander - we've been here since 2004 and not seen one yet. However, our ├ętang is home to many frogs and we have toads in the veg patch - these amphibians are alive, well and thriving in this part of Normandy! Ducks, ducklings and other water fowl seem to love eating tadpoles, BTW. But plenty left over to continue the line!