Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Cold-blooded inhabitants of Skomer

From April-September we have short term volunteers on the island, as well as helping out with the day to day running of the island and visitor engagement, they also carry out some important surveys while on the island, including our reptile surveys.

We have two reptile transects on the island: the Farm and the coast transect. They both consist of around 20 refugia which heat up during the day and attract the cold blooded inhabitants of the island. The normally illusive Slow Worms Anguis fragilis are the most common visitors to these refugia. Common Toad, Skomer Vole and Common Lizards are also often seen.

The numbers of Slow Worms found can depend on weather conditions and time of year, our peak numbers were found in July and August with a peak total of 144 individuals in our farm transect (11/08/2016), and a peak of 25 individuals in our outer island transect (24/08/2016). All of the data collected is collated and then sent off to the Reptile and Amphibian Conservation Trust.

Slow Worms are neither worms nor snakes but belong to the lizard family, through evolution they have lost their legs, making them look surprisingly like snakes. They also have a very interesting evolutionary trait, similar to our common lizards, the Slow Worm can drop its tail when threatened to create a diversion in the hope that the predator will go for its tail and not the body, they then regrow their tail which happens slowly. Like all other reptiles, Slow Worms are ectotherm and need to find warm places to bask (warm their blood) to be able to get the energy to hunt, this is where our refugia come in. They provide the perfect basking habitat.. Slow worms mainly eat slugs, worms and other insects, which are plentiful on Skomer!

Slow Worms (photo by Pia Reufsteck)

Toads are much more frequently seen on Skomer than frogs, if you have stayed the night here you will know that when night descends the toads come out hunting for worms and slugs. There are often counts of over 100 individual toads between the Farm and North Haven, while frog numbers on the island are much smaller and harder to count, only a handful are seen along the same route.

Toad (photo by Pia Reufsteck)

Thanks to all of our lovely volunteers who took part in this year’s reptile surveys!

Alice Brooke (Long Term Volunteer)

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