Amphibians: The Cairngorms’ tenacious natives

The Cairngorms National Park is a vast area evoking images of soaring eagles, magnificent stags, and the elusive capercaillie. But the wildest parts of Scotland are also home to more overlooked species - the humble amphibians. By Danny O’Brien, CNPA kickstart ranger.

With only six native species in Scotland, amphibians are easy to identify, and many are easy to find. One of our commonest, the palmate newt, is present in 42% of Scottish ponds surveyed, so your odds of finding one on a short expedition are very reasonable.

Within the Cairngorms Connect area, there are three commonly sighted amphibians; common frog, common toad and palmate newt. Each of these species are well suited for living within the Cairngorms.

The common frog (Rana temporaria) is perhaps the most iconic of the three, and the easiest to spot. As they are predated upon by many birds, such as grey heron and gulls, they often attempt to flee upon approach. Ironically this makes them very easy to notice, and the twitching of nearby heather can be a good indication of their presence. They are abundant across the Cairngorms Connect habitats, and have a huge altitudinal range, having been found breeding as high as 1120m at Lochain Buidhe on the Cairngorm plateau itself. Living so high up delays their breeding season by over a month but gives them large areas to hunt in - they will travel up to 10km to find insects, slugs and other invertebrates to eat.

Across Scotland the colouration of common frogs can be highly varied - green, red and even near black individuals have been spotted. Their odd colour variance was noted as far back as 1893 by the famous zoologist George Boulenger, and in the Cairngorms, there are quite a high number of red frogs. The easiest way to be certain you have a common frog is by the dark mask running behind their eyes, and their propensity to leap away upon detection.