Bute’s reptiles and amphibians – a checklist

Reptiles and Amphibians: A Checklist of the Reptiles and Amphibians of Bute

The study of that branch of zoology covering reptiles and amphibians is called herpetology. With only six species of non-marine reptiles and seven amphibians, Britain has a relatively impoverished reptile and amphibian fauna when compared to continental Europe, where there are about 85 species of non-marine reptiles and 45 species of amphibians. In Britain we have no salamanders, tree frogs, tortoises, geckoes, agamas, or chameleons. However, in addition to the non-marine reptiles, a few species of sea turtle occur from time to time in British waters.

Bute has but two non-marine reptiles and three amphibians identified with certainty, and there is also a record of Leatherback Turtle within Bute waters. The first, and so far only systematic list to appear in print covering the reptiles and amphibians of Bute was that written by Jack Gibson in 1970 (Gibson 1970). Some species of reptiles and amphibians are far from uncommon on Bute, but are often difficult to find. As a result they are therefore mostly under-recorded, but hopefully, in future, more effort will be put into locating and studying these animals on the island.

Smooth Newt Lissotriton vulgaris was admitted to the list of Bute amphibians by Gibson (1970), however there appears to be no certain record from the island and as a result it is not included here.

Acknowledgments

Rob Williams, from Froglife provided many helpful comments on a first draft of this webpage. Norrie Mulholland and Billy Shields kindly made photographs available to accompany the text on this webpage.

 

Amphibians belong to:-

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Amphibia

Reptiles belong to:-

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

 

Species Systematic List

Class Amphibia

Order Caudata

Family Salamandriidae

Palmate Newt Lissotriton helveticus (formerly Triturus helveticus)

Gibson (1970) said that this species was ‘the commonest newt on Bute, and is well distributed in suitable places, also occurring on Inchmarnock. Remains common and well distributed on Bute, being found in many ponds and lochs.

On 8 April 2010 at Eastlands Road, Rothesay 40 Palmate Newts were transferred from a pond that was being ‘filled-in’ to a newly created pond 12m away. The original pond was less than 20m2 in size and as newts easily hide within vegetation and soft mud, it is likely that those transferred represented no more than half of the newts actually using the pond (Ron Forrester).

Palmate Newt, Loch Fad 3.9.10 © Norrie Mulholland

Palmate Newt, Loch Fad 3.9.10 © Norrie Mulholland

Palmate Newt, Calvary Pond, Mount Stuart 15.10.2009 © Billy Shields
Palmate Newt, Calvary Pond, Mount Stuart 15.10.2009 © Billy Shields

 

Although all three British species of newt occur in the west of Scotland, near to Bute, Palmate Newt is the only species of newt recorded on the island. There have been a few unsubstantiated records of Smooth Newt, but for this species to be accepted it will be necessary to confirm identification. Although the male Palmate Newt is webbed between the toes of the back feet, the majority of newts recorded on Bute appear to be female which lack this feature. The most reliable identification feature is the throat colour and pattern, constant in both sexes. In Palmate Newt this is unspotted pink whereas in Smooth Newt both sexes have an off-white throat with dark spots.  On 7th June 2016, whilst removing excessive vegetation from the pond at Eastlands Road, 8 newts were captured and all showed the characteristic unspotted pink throat pattern of Palmate Newt. Three of these newts were photographed to show this feature:-

Palmate Newt (1), Eastlands Road, Rothesay 7.6.16

 

Palmate Newt (2), Eastlands Road, Rothesay 7.6.16

 

Palmate Newt (3), Eastlands Road, Rothesay 7.6.16

© Ron Forrester

 

Order Salientia

Family Bufonidae

Common Toad Bufo bufo

Gibson (1970) described Common Toad as being ‘fairly common and well distributed on Bute’, but not recorded from Inchmarnock. It remains at least fairly common and well distributed.

Common Toad, Ettrick Bay 24.7.2005 © Norrie Mulholland

Common Toad, Ettrick Bay 24.7.2005 © Norrie Mulholland

 

Family Ranidae

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Gibson (1970) said that Common Frog was common and widely distributed all over Bute. It remains common or even very common throughout Bute, where it is widely distributed.

Whilst, on Bute, frog spawn has been found as early as 6 February (Norrie Mulholland), it can also be seen right through until at least the end of May. At a garden pond in Eastlands Road, Rothesay the number of adult Common Frogs built up to 82 on 15 March 2013, when mating was actively taking place. Following a gap of four weeks when no mating was apparently taking place, 31 were again present and mating in the same pond on 14 April. The previous year a peak of 80 Common Frogs was reached on the earlier date of 23 February (Ron Forrester). At the same pond, peak annual counts of 147+ on 6th March 2015, 140 on 12th March 2016, 126 on 6th March 2017 and 130 on both 15th and 22nd March 2018 were recorded. The earliest sightings and dates of peak counts relate to water temperature. For instance 111 Frogs were seen during a warm spell on 21st February 2017, but in 2018 the first sighting was not until 115 were noted on 11th March, a warm day, following a period of severe weather.

Gibson (1970) said that Common Frog was common on Inchmarnock but by 1980 reported that they had died out (Gibson 1980). By 2004, Jack Gibson was able to report that the species was once more established on Inchmarnock as a result of a recent successful introduction of frog-spawn (Gibson 2004).

Common Frog, Loch Fad 10.8.2007 © Norrie Mulholland

Common Frog, Loch Fad 10.8.2007 © Norrie Mulholland

Common Frogs, Eastlands Road, Rothesay 15.3.2013 © Ron Forrester

Common Frogs, Eastlands Road, Rothesay 15.3.2013 © Ron Forrester

 

 

 

Class Reptilia

Order Squamata

Family Anguidae

Slow-worm Anguis fragilis

Gibson (1970) described Slow-worm as being ‘fairly common and widely distributed throughout Bute’, and that he had many records from Inchmarnock.

More recent reports include from, Kilchattan Bay 12th May 2008, Loch Fad 13th April 2009 (Norrie Mulholland), the ‘old’ Rothesay allotments at The Meadows, Quochag (Glyn Collis) and on the track leading to the ‘wee dhu’ waterworks in October 2015 (per Paul McTaggart). The species probably remains fairly common on Bute and widely distributed, although infrequently reported. There are no recent records from Inchmarnock, but there is no reason to believe that the status has changed.

Slow-worm, probable male, Kilchattan Bay 12.5.2008 © Norrie Mulholland

Slow-worm, probable male, Kilchattan Bay 12.5.2008 © Norrie Mulholland

 

Slow-worm, female, Loch Fad 13.4.2009 © Norrie Mulholland

Slow-worm, female, Loch Fad 13.4.2009 © Norrie Mulholland

 

 

Family Lacertidae

Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara (formerly Lacerta vivipara)

Gibson (1970) indicated that it was ‘widely distributed throughout Bute and also common on Inchmarnock’. By 2004 Jack Gibson reported that although still widely distributed on Bute, the population, like elsewhere in the Clyde area, had undergone a substantial decrease (Gibson 2004). It probably remains widely distributed on Bute, but reports are now infrequent.

More recently several reports have come from Scoulag Moor and near Dhu Loch, although one was seen just below the summit of Edinbeg Hill on 19th April 2016 by John Twynam-Perkins, whilst walking the West Island Way. In her garden of Langalbuinoch Cottage, Kingarth, Irene Scott saw one on 27 March 2017 and the following year 2 on 28 March and 1 on 29 March. During winter Common Lizards hibernate underground and first emerge in spring on sunny days during March and April (McInerny & Minting 2016). The above sightings on Bute during the months of March and April occurred at a time of year when Lizards, having just emerged from hibernation spend a large amount of time basking in the sun to maximise solar absorbance, whereas later in the summer they tend to be more hidden in vegetation.

Gibson (2004) reported a similar decline in numbers on Inchmarnock. There are no recent reports from Inchmarnock, although it probably still occurs there. Jack Gibson reported seeing one on the Burnt Islands on 28 May 1978 (Gibson 1980).

Common Lizard, outside Rothesay Leisure Centre 3.9.2007 © Billy Shields

Common Lizard, male, outside Rothesay Leisure Centre 3.9.2007 © Billy Shields

Common Lizards, Langalbuinoch Cottage 28.3.18 (Irene Scott)

Common Lizards, Langalbuinoch Cottage 28.3.18 (Irene Scott)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Order Testudines

Family Dermochelidae

Leatherback Turtle (Leathery Turtle) Dermochelys coriacea

Gibson (1990) described how on 14 July 1983 Dr A J Baillie and B McGuigan, who were canoeing in the west Kyle saw a Leatherback Turtle some 2 miles south of Kames, to which they managed to approach to within a few feet. Unknown to the two observers, an Andrew Pettigrew and his family had reported seeing a Leatherback Turtle near the entrance to Loch Fyne only five days earlier (Gibson 1985).

There have also been a number of other sightings of Leatherback Turtle in the Clyde, including one off Toward, seen by the same Dr Baillie on 1 September 1981, also when canoeing, which he described as being at least six feet long, with a dark leathery grey/green carapace with several marked nobbly ridges running longitudinally, and a short sharp tail (Gibson 1981). Interestingly there is a pattern to the seven Clyde records listed by Gibson in 1981 and the additional record reported by him in 2004 (Gibson 2004), with dates all falling within the period 9 July – 4 September.

 

References:

Arnold, E.N. & Burton, J.A. 1978. A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. Collins, Glasgow.

Frazer, D. 1989. Reptiles and Amphibians in Britain. Collins New Naturalist Series, London.

Gibson, J.A. 1970. The Reptiles and Amphibians of the Island of Bute. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 18: 31-32.

Gibson, J.A. 1980. Recent Notes on the Lower Vertebrates of the Island of Bute. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 21: 97-98.

Gibson, J.A. 1981. Leathery Turtle in Firth of Clyde. Western Naturalist 10: 24.

Gibson, J.A. 1985. Another Leathery Turtle in the Clyde area. Scottish Naturalist 1985: 83.

Gibson, J.A. 1990. The Leathery Turtle in Buteshire Waters. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 23: 53-56.

Gibson, J. A. (2004).  Supplementary notes on Bute vertebrates – mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, freshwater fishes. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 26: 99-107.

McInerny, C.J. & Minting, P.J. 2016. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland. The Glasgow Natural History Society, Glasgow

 

Web References:

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation: www.arc-trust.org

Froglife Scotland: www.froglife.org/scotland

 

We hope to update this website at regular intervals, so please report all unusual or interesting reptile or amphibian sightings to ron.butemuseum@gmail.com . Observations will be acknowledged. Also we would be pleased to receive any photographs of reptiles or amphibians taken on Bute.

31.3.18 (RWF)