An amphibian, along with mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, is a vertebrate animal. This means it has an internal skeleton made of bone or cartilage and a backbone which is also called a vertebral column.
Amphibians include frogs, toads and newts. They are cold-blooded creatures (or ectothermic) and their body temperature is determined by the air, soil and water temperature around them. Adult amphibians have lungs, but they are also able to breathe through their skin which is smooth and needs to stay moist.
The word amphibian derives from the Greek words ‘amphi’ (meaning 'both') and ‘bio’ (meaning 'life'). In other words 'amphibian' means 'living a double life'. An amphibian begins its life in freshwater as a tadpole and breathes through its gills. Later it develops lungs and lives on land. The study of amphibians (or reptiles) is called ‘herpetology’.
Crustaceans are invertebrate animals that do not possess a backbone, just like spiders and insects. Crustaceans include crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimps, water fleas, barnacles and woodlice.
Crustaceans belong to a very large family of creatures called ‘arthropods’ because they have hard jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton) made out of chitin. This exoskeleton needs to be shed from time to time to allow the animal to grow which is a process called ‘ecdysis’. Most crustaceans have two pairs of antennae and often five pairs of legs. The head and thorax are fused into one piece called a ‘cephalothorax’. The cephalothorax forms a protective sheath over the animal. It is this sheath of ‘crust’ that gives these animals the name ‘crustacean’.
Most crustaceans live in water and breathe through gills. Millions of minute crustaceans (such as copepods) live around the surface of the open sea where they make the principal food for other large animals which are mostly fish.
Other crustaceans live in the deeper layers of the sea, like lobsters and some crabs. Many crustaceans such as sandhoppers, barnacles, shrimps, prawns and some crabs live on coasts and beaches. Others like the White- clawed Crayfish and the Fairy Shrimp live in freshwater. The study of crustaceans is called ‘carcinology’ or ‘crustacelogy’.
Fish, along with reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds, are vertebrate animals. This means they have a skeleton made of bone or cartilidge and a backbone which is also called the vertebral column.
Fish are different from other vertebrate animals because they have gills. Gills allow fish to breathe underwater. Fish dominate the waters of our planet. There are over 25,000 species of fish in the world which means there as many species of fish as there are of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians put together. Fish are cold-blooded and have a body temperature which more or less closely follows that of the water in which they live.
England is abundant with water. It has a huge and varied coastline and inland waterways of streams, rivers, lakes, fens, marshes, ponds, canals and reservoirs. Different types of water encourage different types of fish, like the Spiny Seahorse, the Basking Shark, the Three-spined Stickleback and the Weever Fish and all of them are very different to each other. However, they are all fish and they all have gills. The study of fish is called ‘ichthyology’.
Mammals (along with birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians) are vertebrate animals. This means they have a skeleton (made of bone or cartilage) and a backbone which is known as the ‘vertebrate column’. Mammals are unique from other vertebrate animals because females produce milk to feed their young from special glands called ‘mammary glands’. These glands give mammals their name. Mammals are warm blooded or ‘endothermic’ animals which mean they generate heat from within their own bodies. Some of our best-known and most loved wild creatures are mammals and they live in very different ways. Hedgehogs, red squirrels and moles are found on land. Whales, dolphins and seals are mammals that live in the sea and bats are small, furry mammals that fly at night. All mammals possess hair. Even baby whales are born with a moustache. Mammals are the only creatures that have a diaphragm. The study of mammals is called mammalogy.
Molluscs are invertebrate animals that do not possess a backbone. They have unsegmented soft bodies with a muscular foot and tentacles. Molluscs form one of the largest groups in the animal kingdom with over 80,000 known species. Most molluscs have an external shell covering. Molluscs that are covered by one shell are called snails and molluscs that live inside two hinged shells are called bivalve molluscs.
Snails are found on land, in freshwater environments and in the sea. Sea snails are commonly known by other names such as the limpit, the whelk and the periwinkle. Similarly bivalve molluscs are more known by their common names such as cockles, mussels, razorshells, oysters and scallops. Some bivalve species of mussels and cockles also live in freshwater.
The sea contains a huge variety of other molluscs including the armour-plated chitons and molluscs without an external shell such as the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and slugs. There are an enormous variety of slugs in the sea. Slugs are also commonly found on land, but there is only one species of freshwater slug known to exist in the world and that is in Australia.
A pond can be described as being a small body of water which is shallow enough for sunlight to reach the bottom allowing the growth of rooted plants at its deepest point.
Ponds are generally considered to be man-made bodies of water and smaller than a lake. Man-made bodies of water larger than a lake are generally considered to be reservoirs. Whichever description one chooses and whichever size a pond may be, all healthy ponds form a freshwater environment for an abundant species of wildlife. They form an environment for all sorts of small creatures to develop as well as an environment for molluscs, worms and crustaceans to flourish.
Ponds allow amphibians to live and breed. All this allows predators such as the Grass Snake and the Water Vole to prosper. Also the small flying insects which ponds sustain allow bats to feed and prosper in the vicinity. Larger ponds attract swimming birds such as the Mallard and the Coot, as well as wading birds such as the popular Grey Heron. Ponds have always fascinated children and adults often find the still water perfect for contemplation and reflection.
Reptiles (along with amphibians, mammals, birds and fish) are vertebrate animals. This means they have an internal skeleton (made of bone or cartilage) and a backbonewhich is also called a vertebral column.
Reptiles include snakes, lizards and turtles and they are all characterised by having an external covering of scales or horny plates and by breathing through lungs. All reptiles are ‘tetrapods’ which means they have four legs. Snakes are also tetrapods even though they have no legs now. Their legs have been lost over the many years of evolution.
With the exception of the Leatherback Turtle our native reptiles, like most reptiles, are cold-blooded and they derive virtually all of their heat from sources outside of their body. Heat is generated by sunlight or by lying on warm rocks. The study of reptiles (or amphibians) is called herpetology and the latin term ‘reptilia’ means creeping animals.
Birds (along with fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals) are vertebrate animals. This means they have a skeleton (made of bone or cartilage) and a backbone which is also called a vertebral column.
Birds are unique from other vertebrate animals in that they possess feathers. Feathers have enabled birds to become the most accomplished aeronaughts the world has ever seen. Birds can fly high and low, at great speed or very slowly and always with extra-ordinary precision. Birds are warm-blooded creatures because they are able to generate their own heat. They have beaks with no teeth and they also have a lightweight skeleton. Birds lay hard-shelled eggs.
We have a great variety of resident birds in England. Resident birds are those who nest in this country and can be seen all year round. Our 94 resident birds include beautiful song birds in looks and sounds, powerful birds of prey, birds of coasts, lakes, river and streams. We also have birds of woods and open countryside and we also find birds in gardens which not only provide food but a good habitat too. We are a nation of bird lovers and bird watchers and the study of birds is called ‘ornithology’.
Sea creatures are animals that live in the sea. A variety of these creatures are already described in this website under sea mammals, sea reptiles, salt water fish, saltwater crustaceans, saltwater molluscs and saltwater worms.
Although seahorses are fish and squid, cuttlefish and octopus are all molluscs we have described them all in this sea creature section because of their unusual characteristics.
Also under sea creatures we have included microscopic zooplankton, corals, sea quirts and the Dead Man’s Fingers as well as the primitive Sea Orange Sea Sponge. We’ve also included some well-known sea creatures such as the Common Starfish, the Common Sea Urchin and the Common Jelly Fish and also less known creatures such as the Common Brittlestar, the Gravel Sea Cucumber, the Phosphorescent Sea Pen, the Trembling Sea Mat and the Sea Toad.
We hope you enjoy reading about all these wonderful creatures and that you will be able to more fully appreciate the extent of our natural heritage surrounding our shores.
Seashores vary enormously from rocky coastlines, shingle beaches, sand beaches to the muddy shores and salt marshes or estuaries and bays. The creatures that inhabit these various types of shores vary just as dramatically.
Shingle beaches probably provide the least favourable environment for wildlife because shingle is made up of vast numbers of loose rounded stones which are unstable and move a lot preventing most forms of life from getting a foothold.
Sandy shores are also unstable, but sand allows various creatures to burrow under its surface. Lugworms, bivalve molluscs such as cockles and razor shells, shrimps and some fish like the Weever Fish can live there.
A rocky coastline allows rock pools to develop. These rock pools can provide a oases for wildlife and creatures such as barnacles, se anemones, crabs, mussels, shrimps, limpits, sea urchins, seahorses and rock pool fish all of which can flourish in rock pools.
In sheltered areas when the force of the sea is minimal, like in estuaries and bays, the very smallest suspended particles are deposited as mud or silt. This silt is high in nutritional value and allows sea creatures such as worms and bivalve molluscs (like cockles) to flourish. These in turn provide food for wading sea birds which often love to feed in large numbers. Many seashore environments and their wildlife are under threat from over use either commercially or recreationally. Care needs to be taken.
The animals described as 'small creatures' in our website are in fact all arthropods. Arthropods, like other invertebrate animals, do not possess a backbone or an internal skeleton. Instead, arthropods have a tough external skeleton (exoskeleton) made of chitin. Arthropods also have jointed bodies, jointed legs and jointed antennae. Arthropods are an enormously diverse group of creatures that make up over 80% of the animal species of the world including insects, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, harvestmen and mites.
Crustaceans are also arthropods, but they have not been included in the ‘small creatures’ category because some crustaceans grow very large indeed.
England's largest native small creature is in fact an insect called the Great Green Bush Cricket which can reach up to 5cm in length. Our smallest described small creature is the Red Velvet Mite which only reaches approximately 3mm in size.
Of course we have many 'tiny' creatures such as the microscopic zooplankton and amoeba. These tiny creatures are not arthropods and are described in other sections of our website under sea creatures and pond life.
Worms are invertebrate animals which do not possess a backbone and they can be described as elongated soft-bodied animals. Some animals that are definitely not worms are called worms. In our website we have two of these creatures. The glow-worm (which is a beetle) and the slow-worm (which is a legless lizard)
There are also a number of primitive, small elongated soft-bodied animals that are described or classified as worms, but are not true worms. These include roundworms (or threadworms) and flatworms (which include true flatworms, flukes or tape worms). Most of these are parasitic in nature and these worms are not included in our A-Z apart from the Free-living Flat Worm which is commonly seen in a freshwater environment and is not parasitic.
All our other worms are true worms which are all segmented worms. They are also called annelid worms (annelid meaning ‘ring’) because their segmented bodies look like they have rings all around them.
In the world, there are over seven thousand known different species of true worms. Most species live in the sea, many in fresh water and some on land. Worms play an enormous role in the natural scheme of things. Our earth would be a far different place without them.
In our website we have described 8 different types of true worms in the individual categories of land worms, freshwater worms and saltwater worms.