Leatherback Turtle

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Leatherback Turtle

Jellyfish are the staple diet of the critically endangered leatherback turtle. These spectacular reptiles are seasonal visitors to UK seas, migrating from their tropical nesting beaches, and analyses of stomach contents of dead leatherbacks stranded on UK shores have revealed that they feed on several species of jellyfish found around the UK.

Turtles are in an ancient group of reptiles that have witnessed the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, with the earliest marine turtle fossils dated at about 110 million years old! Seven species of marine turtle now swim our oceans and all are included on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species. Some marine turtle populations around the world are in danger of extinction, as a result of too much fishing, getting tangled in fishing gear, marine pollution and habitat destruction.

Activity
By comparing jellyfish numbers with things like sea temperature, plankton and current flow, MCS hopes to understand a bit more about what influences movements of jellyfish and leatherback turtles.

Please report any turtle or jellyfish encounters to MCS!

Photo Credit: © Copyright Mike Daines/MCS

www.mcsuk.org

Common Lizard

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Common Lizard

The common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is most frequently seen on commons, heaths, moorland, dry stone walls, embankments and sea cliffs around the British Isles.

It is the only species of reptile native to Ireland. Common lizards are widespread throughout Europe, even extending into the Arctic Circle.

Identification
Typical adult size is approximately 15cm (nose to tail). Colouration is commonly a shade of brown with patterns of spots or stripes. Colour variants are not uncommon: everything from yellow through various shades of green to jet black can be encountered.

Newts, when on land, are sometimes mistaken for lizards. They can be told apart by looking at the skin: lizards have scaly rather than smooth, velvety skin. Lizards tend to move very quickly when disturbed.

Lifecycle
Mating takes place in spring and females ‘give birth’ to inch-long lizards in August. Like the adder, the common lizard incubates its eggs internally without laying shelled eggs (like for instance the sand lizard). Juvenile lizards gradually turn a copper colour as they develop into adults. The common lizard likes open sunny places and is usually found in dry, exposed locations where dense cover exists close by. Common lizards feed predominantly on spiders and insects.

Protection
Common lizards are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell/trade common lizards. In Northern Ireland they are fully protected against killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Sand Lizard

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Sand Lizard

Due to vast habitat loss the sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) now only occurs naturally in Surrey, Dorset and Hampshire, where it lives on sandy heathland, and further north in Merseyside where it is confined to coastal sand dune systems.

Sand lizards have now been re-introduced to other sites in these counties and also, to restore its range, to sites in North Wales, Devon and Cornwall and West Sussex.

Identification
The sand lizard is a stocky lizard, that reaches up to 20cm in length. Both sexes have brown varied patterns down the back with two strong dorsal stripes. The male has extremely striking green flanks which are particularly bright during the breeding season in late April and May.

Lifecycle
The sand lizard lays eggs in late May or early June. The eggs are left buried in sand exposed to the sun which helps to keep them warm. Eggs hatch between August and September. The sand lizard is dependent on well managed heathland or sand dune habitats, where it occupies mature vegetation that provides good cover.

Protection
Due to its rarity, the sand lizard is strictly protected by British and European law which makes it an offence to: kill injure, capture or disturb them; damage or destroy their habitat; possess, sell/trade them in any way.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Slow Worm

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Slow Worm

The slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) is often found in gardens and is widespread throughout the British Isles; it is naturally absent from Ireland.

Identification
Slow-worms are lizards, though they are often mistaken for snakes. Unlike snakes they have eyelids, a flat forked tongue and can drop their tail to escape from a predator.

Slow-worms have a shiny appearance. Males are a greyish brown and females are brown with dark sides. Some females possess a thin line down the back. Juvenile slow-worms are very thin and are initially around 4cm long. Juveniles have black bellies and gold or silver dorsal sides, sometimes with a stripe running along the length of the body.

Lifecycle
Unlike other British reptiles, slow-worms rarely bask in the open, instead preferring to hide under logs or in compost heaps. Slow-worms feed on slow-moving prey, particularly small slugs. Like common lizards, female slow-worms incubate their eggs internally and ‘give birth’ in the late summer.

Protection
Slow-worms are protected by law in Great Britain against being deliberately killed, injured or sold/traded in any way.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Grass Snake

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Grass Snake

Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) are found throughout England and Wales. Feeding primarily on fish and amphibians, grass snakes can occasionally venture into garden ponds in the summer months, particularly in rural or semi-rural parts of the south. Grass snakes are non-venomous and are extremely timid, moving off quickly when disturbed. If cornered they can feign death, and if handled frequently, produce a foul-smelling excretion.

Identification
This is the UK’s longest snake, growing to well over a metre in length. Typically grass snakes are grey-green in colour. They have a distinctive yellow and black collar around the neck, with black bars down the sides of the body.

Lifecycle
Grass snakes are Britain’s only egg-laying snake. Females lay eggs in June or July, normally in rotting vegetation (including garden compost heaps) which acts as an incubator. The eggs hatch into miniature versions of the adults in the late summer months.

Protection
Grass snakes are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell grass snakes.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Adder

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Adder

The adder (Vipera berus) is the UK’s only venomous snake. However, their secretive nature and camouflaged markings mean they often go unnoticed. Though painful, adder bites are rarely fatal. There are only around ten recorded cases of death from adder bite in the last 100 years. Most bites occur when the snake has been disturbed or deliberately antagonised.

Where to find them
The adder is the most northerly member of the Viper family and is found throughout Britain right up to the north of Scotland. In Scandinavia its range extends into the Arctic Circle. It is not, however, found in Ireland. Adders like open habitats such as heathland, moorland, open woodland and sea cliffs, and rarely stray into gardens.

Identification
The adder is easily recognised by a dark ‘zig-zag’ stripe along its back. There is also a row of dark spots along each side and a ‘V’ or ‘X’ shape on the head. Background colours vary from grey-white in the male to shades of brown or copper in the female. On occasion, completely black specimens are described. They can grow to around 60cm in length and have rather a stocky appearance.

Lifecycle
Mating takes place in April/May and female adders incubate their eggs internally, rather than laying shelled eggs (like the grass snake). Adders ‘give birth’ to live young in August or September. Adders feed largely on small rodents and lizards. As a result their venom is not particularly potent.

Protection
Adders are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell wild adders.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Smooth Snake

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Smooth Snake

The smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is Britain’s rarest reptile, found only on heathlands in Dorset and Hampshire and on one or two heaths in Surrey and West Sussex.

Many of the sites on which it occurs are also inhabited by the sand lizard.

The smooth snake is dependent on well managed heathland where it occupies mature vegetation that provides good cover. The smooth snake shares the slow-worm’s habit of hiding under stones, logs and other debris exposed to the sun.

Identification
Smooth snakes are smaller and more slender than other snakes, usually only growing to 60-70cm in length. They are generally grey or a dull brown colour with black markings arranged in bars or two rows of dots down the back. Smooth snakes nearly always possess a heart-shaped “crown” marking, which covers the top of the head An eye stripe is usually present that extends from the eyes along the side of the head. Its name comes from the fact that its scales are flat and smooth, unlike those of the grass snake and adder which have a ridge (or ‘keel’) down the middle of each scale.

Lifecycle
Smooth snakes are non-venomous and feed mainly on common lizards, slow-worms and small mammals (especially shrews and nestling rodents), which are captured and constricted in the coils of its body. Live young, which look very similar to the adults, are ‘born’ in September. The smooth snake is a secretive animal and when it basks in the sun it does so entwined amongst the stems of heather plants where it is superbly camouflaged.

Due to its rarity, the smooth snake is strictly protected by British and European law which makes it an offence to kill, injure, sell/trade, capture or disturb them or damage or destroy their habitat.; or to possess or trade in them. A licence is required for some activities involving this species.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org