RAUK - Archived Forum - Subterranean Common Lizard?

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Subterranean Common Lizard?:

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secaver
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Posted: 14 Jul 2006
Hi - just joined to get an answer to a specific question...

I'm a caver/mine-explorer, last night I was exploring an old underground stone quarry in Surrey with our club when we came across a number of young lizards. I have since looked them up and I'm 99% sure that they are common lizards, not sand lizards.

They are living in a pile of brick-rubble/fragments that have fallen down an old ventilation shaft.
30-40 ft deep, 3-4 ft diameter and open to the air and sun at the top (grilled for safety)

There is an old surface level entrance close-by but is was thoroughly sealed long ago and I am sure that they came in via the shaft. I have also read elsewhere whilst looking them up that clutches are 3-11, we found 8 - my guess is that an egg bundle was laid at the top and somehow fell down before hatching.

It's nice and moist here, safe from predators, plenty of air and lots and lots of bugs (that also like the stable 'near-entrance partial-light environment)
There is faint diffuse daylight here (although we certainly need lamps here to see properly)
Everything for a happy life except perhaps warmth from the sun! its a fairly steady 55F/13C (roughly) I know lizards rely upon this for any sort of active life, but how much?

Ok, here's my question:
Do they need rescuing?

The land above the shaft (which is where they would be released if rescued) is the foot of the north downs, lizard paradise.
I am also aware that they are protected by law, and that if they don't need rescuing and I misguidedly 'help' them then I would be doing a "bad" thing.

I am happy to act on the advice of those who know more about these creatures than I do.

On a more general note:
We often come across frogs and toads in a similar situation, they don't bask in the sun (do they?) and with all the bugs usually found at the bottom of shafts (and often general crap thrown in) they seem to do OK although I have never seen a fat one!

They seem to survive some incredible falls too, I have found them at the the bottoms of 70-80 ft vertical shafts, even allowing for them being very small at the time and grown since that is some fall, ~50MPH on impact.

Should we remove them on principle as they will be better off, leave them there as better off there - or just let nature take its course and not try to play God?



herpetologic2
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Posted: 14 Jul 2006

 

If you could get some photographs of these 'lizards' that would be a great help - a tall order possibly - this isnt the old fire stone mines at all? I remember going down them when I was in the scouts.

If they are lizards - I feel that they may be newts which superficially look like lizards - then the best thing would be to rescue them and place them in suitable habitat above ground such as rough grassland/hedge ditch type habitat nearby.

Even if it is confirmed as newts then it may be alright to bring them to the surface along with any frogs and toads - is there any standing water down there?

 

Jon 


Vice Chair of ARG UK - self employed consultant -
visit ARG UK & Alresford Wildlife
secaver
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Posted: 14 Jul 2006
Hi,
thanks for that.
Yes, it's one of the firestone quarries at Godstone.
I shall try to post pics, a bit blurry I'm afraid but clear enough to identify it.



Thanks.

*SNAKE*
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Posted: 14 Jul 2006

hi Andy I'm afraid there newts

still a nice find though


PAUL SMITH     
herpetologic2
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Posted: 15 Jul 2006

 

Excellent - they look like juvenile smooth or palmate newts - I would be inerested in going down those mines - when are you thinking of visiting them again?

Regards

Jon


Vice Chair of ARG UK - self employed consultant -
visit ARG UK & Alresford Wildlife
secaver
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Posted: 15 Jul 2006
Hi,
just done some searching on the net for lizard/newt pictures, they are similar aren't they.

If these are newts then getting them put is more critical as they will want water at some point to breed?
They are in a perfect hibernation location though, but as far as I am aware there is no way out for them, the old drift entrance is blocked and I doubt they can climb the shaft!

At what stage in their lives/season will they want water?

Access to this particular quarry is limited, we won't be in there again for a while unless we make a special trip.
Specialist kit is required for access, the entrance we use is a 60ft shaft and accessed on a rope.

Jon: If you wish to visit the other Godstone quarries we are always happy to take visitors around, get in touch via our website at:
http://www.wcms.org.uk/
There are also many pictures of these quarries although not this one with the newts.





armata
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Posted: 15 Jul 2006
This is really interesting; must be the biggest pitfall ever!
Have often wondered about old wells and mine shafts and the like.
We had a cobra down a well here in the Little Karoo earlier this year; frau reckoned it had been down there a year! It was fit fat & healthy.
Interesting stuff, well done mate
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
secaver
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Posted: 15 Jul 2006
I took a while to check the various online pictures, identification from these pics I posted is hard, the more I looked the more pictures of lizards that looked like 'my' ones I found, and more pictures of newts that looked very different. I did notice the rear toes of one (not visible in pictures) and it really did look like a common lizard.

However, I have just spotted from the identification pictures on this site that com.lizards have 5 front toes and palmate newts have three. And I can just make out in my pics, (and other less clear unposted ones) that my ones have 3 front toes.

Is this a definite difference for future ID as shape/colourwise they are damn near the same as far as I can tell.

From the pictures you have I am inclined to think they might be palmate newts on the basis that they look less like the pictures of smooth newts I have seen.

Anyway - that all prompts another question...

I know that lizards are born from egg sacs rather than conventional eggs, I could easily imagine a lizard laying eggs at the top of the shaft and the egg cluster falling down and hatching. I made this point in my original post.

But if they are newts then they would have started in a pond somewhere and then all jumped down? There were 8 that we found in a very small area less than two square feet, I have no doubt that there were more we did not see.

I am equally certain that there is no level route in, we are close to an old drift entrance but this is well sealed and far enough to the air shaft (10m of difficult terrain for a tiny creature) that I cannot imagine them making the journey. They are located directly under the shaft.

Since they are newts, and presumably this year's spawning when do they need to get back to a pond?

Because they will definitely want a pond at some point they will definitely be 'rescued' then, the question is when, as I said access to this particular site is difficult. The amount of effort required has to match the level of urgency...

So: I know newts live on land most of the time and have an annual aquatic phase. I have also read that newts don't breed until they are three years old - do they live on land for their entire 'adolescence' or do they still spend spring in the water with the adults?

I am tempted to leave them there to over-winter - it is much safer than the surface, no predators, plenty of bugs, and much warmer in the winter, a constant annual temp of about 13C

There is no standing water in the quarry, its damp and humid but well drained. The base of the shaft is damp as it attracts a certain amount of 'drippage'.

And when to get them out?
Release habitat is no problem, Surrey has many wildlife places (surprisingly many for such a highly developed and urbanised area), as cavers we have a fair amount of contact with conservation and wildlife groups (bats especially) so finding a close suitable place to release them will not be a problem.

Unfortunately we have no surface access to the land around the top of the shaft (we access via another shaft)
I have never actually seen it from above and cannot say what is there, there used to be a chimney so my guess is that its an overgrown heap of rubble. It would be interesting to see if that rubble has a lizard/newt population - I suspect it does.

The general area is at the foot of the north downs, very wild, mixture of woods, scrub and grassland. No ponds that I am aware of though in this porous geology, the natural spring line is further to the south.

I'm definitely intrigued by these, apart from bats and 'entrance zone' bugs the quarries are otherwise devoid of fauna. Al other animals found in there, mice, rats, birds, rabbits, foxes, badgers are always bones - or soon to be! Clearly accidental access in place they cannot survive.


secaver
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Posted: 15 Jul 2006
armata: We had a cobra down a well here in the Little Karoo earlier this year

Bugger that! I'm glad to say our UK wells are much safer - never thought about it before - meeting a poisonous snake/spider in a confined space, that'd liven up any trip!

GemmaJF
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Posted: 15 Jul 2006

Your piccies are of newts, no doubt about it at all.

The images on the ID pages that show 3 front toes for newts are misleading, they actually have 4 you just cannot see them in the pictures.

You can use this for ID though: newts have 4 front toes and 5 back toes, lizards have 5 on both the front and rear feet. Lizards are also obviously scaly and have little claws on the end of each toe.

Could it be possible in any way that they are actually breeding down there as you seem to have found a mixture of lifestages? If so it would be a truly amazing find. Certainly the small newt species can breed in very small amounts of standing water.


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
Nods, that or...as Tony implied, its acting as a pitfall trap, and various lifestages fall in ? or could be both.
Steve Langham - Chairman    
Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group (SARG).
GemmaJF
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
Could be either or both Steve, I was just thinking along the lines that someone should find out for sure before moving any, just in case it really could be a breeding population, which would be truly unique.
Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
herpetologic2
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006

 

Thats why I would like to get down there again

 

Jon


Vice Chair of ARG UK - self employed consultant -
visit ARG UK & Alresford Wildlife
secaver
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
Some interesting comments:

GemmaJF: ... find out for sure before moving any, just in case it really could be a breeding population, which would be truly unique

Rest assured they will not be disturbed without a good check of this first.

This location has been visited many times before by myself and others, generally we are poking about looking for small clues/graffiti/artefacts from the quarry when it was working or in its later re-use as a mushroom farm. Because of this we tend to spot small things (how I found these newts in fact) and on this basis I do not think that they were there back in March this year when we last visted this area.

Some of these firestone quarries undergo seasonal flooding where the ground water rises up to flood the lower levels. The drought problems in the SE are very apparent here, this seasonal flooding has not occurred in any significant way in the last few years.

The quarry in which the newts were found doesn't flood significantly, it's one of the driest quarries, and the area around the shaft where the newts are is a higher section, not subject to flooding or even significant inflow of surface water, there is no evidence at all in the dirt on the floor of this. The floor is fairly porous, plenty of cracks for any rain-water from the shaft to drain away into, not even significant puddles. I can therefore be quite certain when I say that they are not specifically breeding down here due to the lack of standing water.

However: there is a small chance that they are deliberately using this are as part of their 'terrestrial-phase'. What I want to do is have a good look for any possibility of a way through from the old drift entrance. I think it highly unlikely, but worth checking if only to eliminate it. But its a long way to go for a small creature in total darkness.

If there is no such access then they must be rescued as however nice this place might be for a terrestrial phase it is still essentially a barren prison with no possibility of escape to breed.

I still find it incredible that these creatures can fall that far and survive, but it really does seem that way.
The surface needs to be checked to see if there is a population there, and if so, perhaps a fine net added below the suface grill to prevent more falling in. Having said that, the grill is also intended for bats (I think) so an opening of some sort is required. I will be speaking to a few other members of our club who I know are familiar with the surface area for their opinions on this. It would be nice to get special access permission to this shaft-top, and I will ask if this is worth going for.

Whether we rescue them or not depends on further investigation, but this is certainly curious enough to check it out.

Jumping a way ahead: _IF_ we get access to this shaft and do a rescue/investigation then we would certainly like an expert along. Such a person would need a sense of adventure, good coordination and be physically fit as a trip into this quarry is strenuous and demanding.

herpetologic2
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006

 

Put me down for that - let me know pm if it is possible

 

Jon


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visit ARG UK & Alresford Wildlife
Ray999
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006

What always gets me is the extremes of mans behavior,on the one hand you have the barbaric actions of Japanese fishermen  slautering Dolphins as highlighted on Dolphins cry too and then you have others willing to carry out what sounds like a potentialy dangerous task to save 8 young newts.I must admit going miles underground in dark damp cramped tunnels is not my thing.

Ray 


ray999
secaver
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
Re Ray999's post:
Haha! I never thought of it like that, for my part I have always been interested in the natural world, it was originally an interest in earth sciences and geology that lead me into caving, and along the way I have seen so many other things it is hard not to acquire other interests. As cavers we often have to work with conservation bodies, particularly with Bats.

And of course it is an excuse to go there again, not that we need one, but a trip with a 'mission' is always more fun than a 'pleasure' trip, same effort, but a warmer feeling!
secaver
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
I have now spoken to one of my colleagues within our club. His description of the shaft-top suggests that newts shouldn't be able to fall in, and more interestingly there are no ponds nearby, the shaft-top is a good way up the slope of the hill (scarp face of north downs)

However, he did also confirm my thoughts about other access via the old drift entrance, this is indeed totally blocked, to all intents and purposes gone forever - and so we have to assume the newts came in via the shaft.

The good news is that he has spoken to the land-owners and we have permission for a one-off trip to:
1: look for a surface population of newts
2: access the site via this shaft and remove them
3: look at ways to modify the shaft opening so that no more fall in, such as adding some fine mesh just below the rim so they can fall in but still climb out - open in the centre though as although this is not specifically a bat site they may well use this shaft as they do others in the area - sealing the shaft, or doing anything that will affect the airflow is not an option.


I had forgotten until now, but this has happened before.
Last August we found a 'lizard' in the bottom of another mine. Similar type of mine, and the same landscape but much further away nearer Dorking. I've just checked a photo of it and guess what? It's a newt, it's front feet are clear!



In general we will learn from this and ensure where possible in future that similar shafts and sites do not become small animal traps.


armata
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
This has been such an interesting thread-please keep us informed, and all power to you - good luck

BTW I am claustrophobic and I love bats; don't mix really does it
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
secaver
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Posted: 16 Jul 2006
[QUOTE=armata] This has been such an interesting thread-please keep us informed, and all power to you - good luck

BTW I am claustrophobic and I love bats; don't mix really does it [/QUOTE]

I'll certainly keep you posted, a 'rescue' will take place ASAP within the next week or so.

The area just around these quarry entrances is usually a good place to see bats out feeding in the evenings.


- Subterranean Common Lizard?

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