Missing & Isolated Animals

Missing Animals

Common Lizard
Copyright Mike Brown

There are nearly ninety different species of reptile living in continental Europe. Only one, the common lizard, is native to Ireland. However a second one, the slow-worm, has recently been introduced to the Burren in County Clare. It is a leg-less lizard that looks rather like a small snake. There are fifty-three European amphibian species and only three in Ireland of which one, the common frog, was probably introduced by humans. The other two are the natterjack toad, which is rare and only found in a few areas of west Kerry (with the exception of a small population introduced to County Wexford for conservation reasons), and the smooth newt.

There is a nice story about the introduction of the common frog to Ireland, which may or may not be true. Around the year 1720 the School of Medicine in Trinity College Dublin imported live frogs from England so that medical students could dissect them as part of their studies. At that time there was a stream running through the college campus - nowadays it’s piped under the ground. Some students took pity on the frogs and released them into the stream - and that’s supposed to be how the first frogs came to Ireland.

Isolated Animals

A similar sort of situation to the 'missing animals', where species become isolated and are unable to travel and spread, can happen at a local level within the country.

Natterjack toads, for example, can only live in sand dunes which have ponds of fresh or slightly salty water in which the toads breed. These ponds are called dune slacks and they can disappear as a result of winter storms or, sometimes, human development. If this happens the toads have nowhere to breed and they’re too slow-moving to head off across country to look for another dune system. The local population will then die out, and they are a very endangered species in Ireland .

This is why some years ago the Government took a small number of toads from west Kerry and introduced them into a suitable sand dune system in Wexford Harbour. Having more populations of them around our coast reduces the likelihood that they will become extinct.

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