Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: The science of stowaways

Those of you that know me, will know that I have a voracious appetite for reading and also answering questions. Something I’ve been interested in for a while (since later 2015) is the the frequency and origin of stowaway reptiles and amphibians in the UK. We always see ‘horror stories’ in the media of someone that found a frog in their bananas, why does it never happen to me? I’d happily accept the frog as a free gift and carry on my business. In case you’re wondering, this all stems back to the guttural toad I rehomed, that we later described a new species of parasite from. You can read more here.

Whilst living in Cambridge, I also helped to rehome a number of geckos (and other reptiles) that made it into the country from the Mediterranean as stowaways in the bags of holidaymakers. Unfortunately a few of these died shortly after they were discovered as they had been through the washing machine, that can’t be too healthy for them. However some of the little guys were quite hardy and were able to survive a short spin cycle. I can only assume this is linked to the temperature, duration and detergent used. Al of this has had me thinking for a long time, are my experiences representative of the nation and what other kind of species enter the country accidentally?

You’ll be happy to know that I’m now spending some time to research this as well as looking at where the animals came from and their method of entry. It is highly unlikely that any of the species that enter the country as stowaways would become established, as our climate and weather is far different to those from where they originated. Also the journey back is also quite stressful on the animals and so this may also prove lethal, even before washing machines are involved. I also imagine that the incidence is much higher than reported, a number of the animals I helped to rehome were never picked up by the local media with the stats only being reported to the RSPCA.

I guess only time will tell to see if I can find enough information on stowaways out there to make this project worthwhile. If it doesn’t lead to a publications, it’s not the end of the world. At least my inner curiosity will be satisfied! I’d be interested in hearing your stowaway stories (if you have any) so please get in touch if you accidentally found a lizard or frog in your suitcase after a trip abroad.

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