How to identify UK animals

Various amphibians

Struggling to tell the difference between a smooth newt and a palmate newt, or want to know where to look for a natterjack toad? Well we hope our handy table helps you identify these cold-blooded animals and also where to look for them this summer.

Once you think you know them why not identify our mystery amphibian using our cunning clues at the bottom of the page, and tell us what you have seen while out and about.

With the recent reintroduction of the pool frog, the United Kingdom now has seven species of amphibians considered to be native.

Amphibians are cold-blooded and if the conditions are too cold or hot they will become less active and take shelter in damp areas, such as under stones and logs or buried in leaves and mud... making them hard to spot! So the weather conditions and time of day are important factors to consider before heading out on a "frog-spotting" walk.

What did you see? Where did you see it? I could be a... Watch
  • Skin covered in lots of obvious warts with a dry look.
  • A generally uniform brown to green/grey colour and speckled cream under parts.
  • Eyes that were amber with horizontal pupils.
  • A lumbering walk or small hop.
  • In a damp area with plenty of cover.
  • Near a pool or pond for breeding.
  • In a marsh, woodland or pasture and a regular of gardens during the summer.
  • Hibernating under logs, rocks and tree roots.
Common toad

Common toad (Bufo bufo)

  • Like a common toad with a yellow stripe down the spine.
  • Pale brown to green colour with lots of obvious warts.
  • Golden yellow iris with horizontal pupils.
  • Short stocky legs with a run rather than a walk or hop.
  • Specifically in coastal sand dunes, sandy heaths and some salt marshes.
  • Near a body of warm water when breeding.
  • Confined to a few monitored sites in England in the south and east, north west and in Scotland.
Natterjack toad

Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita)

  • Smooth moist skin that is variably spotted or striped.
  • Typically olive-green to yellowy-brown in colour.
  • Dark patch behind the eyes and blotches of dark striping on the back legs.
  • Moving with a hop rather than a walk.
  • Almost anywhere in the UK from meadows and open fields to marshes and gardens.
  • In a damp place close to fresh water for breeding.
  • Hibernating under logs and stones.
Common frog

Common frog (Rana temporaria)

  • Similar to the common frog.
  • Usually brown in colour with dark spots.
  • A light yellow back stripe.
  • Males have prominent vocal sacs at side of mouth.
  • Very close to or in water.
  • Re-introduced to very secret sites in East Anglia.
  • An extremely lucky spot!
Pool frog

Pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae)

  • About 10 cm long head to tail.
  • Smooth olive green to brown skin covered in black spots.
  • Yellow to orange belly with small black spots, with pale spotted throat.
  • A large wavy back crest on the male when breeding.
  • In bodies of water such as ponds during spring and early summer.
  • Amongst leaf debris and under logs or stones close to water during late summer land stage.
  • Hibernating during under logs, stones and leaf litter.
Smooth newt

Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

  • Heavily built and 15 cm long.
  • Granular and warty looking skin that is dark brown or black with white spots.
  • Bright orange underside with black blotches.
  • A large jagged crest with a gap and silver stripe on the male during breeding.
  • In any body of deep water with plenty of vegetation during spring and early summer.
  • In surrounding woodlands, ditches and gardens during summer land stage.
  • Hibernating under logs and stones or buried in mud.
Great crested newt

Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus)

  • Similar to the smooth newt (above) in appearance and colouring but a little smaller.
  • White or pink spotless throat and a dark stripe through the eye.
  • Breeding male's tail has crest and ends in a filament, back feet are webbed.
  • In shallow and acidic waters of heathland, bogs and farmland during spring.
  • Surrounding damp areas during the summer land phase in leaf debris, including gardens.
  • Hibernating under rocks and logs and in deep leaf litter.
Palmate newt

Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

Alien amphibians

The United Kingdom has populations of amphibians that have either gained a foothold from Europe, been deliberately released or escaped from captivity. Here are some you may encounter:

Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris) - Similar in size to the smooth and palmate newt with a dark, almost blue colouring. The belly is orange to red and unspotted.

Midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans) - Similar to a common toad but only about half the size (5 cm). Grey or brown in colour and a high-pitched whistling call. Male wraps the spawn around his hind limbs and carries it around until the eggs are ready to hatch.

Marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus) and edible frog (Pelophylax esculentus) - Both species are very similar to the pool frog but the marsh frog is larger. Found mostly in southern England. Listen to the distinctive "laughing" calls of the marsh frog.

Bull frog (Lithobates catesbeianus) - Can be as big as 25 cm and "roars" like a bull. It is a serious threat to much of our native wildlife.

Want to know more about alien and introduced animals and plants and whether they are good or bad for our native species? Then read our feature.

Quick tips to take with you

Amphibians love the water and are usually found in and around it!

Most of our amphibians have a smooth and moist skin, whereas toads tend to have a warty dry skin - so warts are quite a good thing to look for first.

Newts have tails that are almost as long as the body and can be quite flamboyant during the breeding season - adult frogs and toads lack a tail.

There can be a lot of variation in colour and patterning, particularly between populations, seasons and the sexes making identification tricky.

When an amphibian cannot be seen, it may be heard. Listen for calling frogs and croaking toads. Natterjack toads are claimed to be Europe's noisiest amphibian, with the male call audible over several kilometres.

If you have a camera or phone with you, then these handy tips and tricks will help you to get the best out of your photographic equipment, whatever your level of expertise.

Been inspired and want to help?

There are some wonderfully visual online guides to help you identifying Britain's amphibians. The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation have a very comprehensive guide to amphibian identification (pdf) that can also be downloaded from The Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK. There are also detailed pages for each species of amphibian. There is another excellent guide to identifying the amphibians (reptiles) found in the UK from Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK.

Once you have identified what you have seen, you can submit sightings of both native and alien amphibians to the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK recording site, who also have links to local recording groups. The National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme run various surveys for you to sign up to and take part in, and for unusual and exotic-looking amphibians, sightings can be submitted to Alien Encounters. There is also the latest observations of amphibians and reptiles from iSpot, an online resource for identifying and sharing nature.

Test yourself

Now you are armed with all the facts, can you identify this amphibian from the clues?

smooth skin

I have smooth olive to brown skin.

eye band

I have a dark band through my eye.

Bog

I can be found in acidic bogs.

Click here for the answer and to find out more about our mystery amphibian.

Love your amphibians? Then tell us about any you have seen and join the big Summer of Wildlife conversation with BBC Nature on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #summerofwildlife.

And please share your photos with us on our Summer of Wildlife Flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.

More on This Story

Summer of Wildlife homepage

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.