The Islay Natural History Trust's

Checklist of the Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of Islay

The mammals, amphibians and reptiles occurring on Islay are limited in variety because it is an island. On the other hand, isolation has led to the development of two subspecies peculiar to Islay, of Common Shrew and Field Vole, while a third, the Stoat, has also been claimed, though not universally accepted.

The following list gives brief status details for all the land mammals, plus the seals, and for the amphibians and reptiles. Our information on several of these is far from complete and we would welcome records of all those species whose name is underlined. We also welcome records of whales, dolphins and porpoises, whether seen around our coasts and from the ferry. Click here for a recording form.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

MAMMALS

Hedgehog

Apparently introduced to Islay in the mid-1950s and again in the early 1970s. Now widespread and frequently seen as a road casualty.

Common Shrew

A distinct race, Sorex araneus granti, occurs quite widely on Islay, distinguished from mainland shrews by its very grey flanks and different dentition.

Pygmy Shrew

Found in most areas of the island, but more records needed.

Water Shrew

Recent records from the Rinns and Gruinart areas, but probably more widespread.

Pipistrelle

Found around several of the villages, but not common. The only small bat on Islay.

Common Long-eared Bat

The only common large bat on Islay. Only definitely recorded from Gruinart, Port Ellen and Kildalton. More records welcomed.

Natterer's Bat

Recorded for the first time in 1996, in the south-east of the island. Also seen on Jura in the same year.

Rabbit

Abundant; subject to periodic outbreaks of myxomatosis. Black and parti-coloured animals can be seen in some of the dune warrens.

Brown Hare

Widespread and common in certain areas. Groups of 20+ can be seen in spring, e.g. at Gruinart. Variable in colour; gingery animals occur.

Mountain Hare

Introduced, probably in 19th century, but now died out. Occurs on Jura where the Brown Hare is absent.

Field or Short-tailed Vole

Common and widespread, and subject to large fluctuations in numbers. They belong to a separate Islay race, Microtus agrestis fiona, which has a very dark brown ventral surface and distinct dentition, as compared to the voles on the mainland.

Wood Mouse

Widespread.

House Mouse

Widespread.

Common or Brown Rat

Widespread and numerous, e.g. round farms and on the shore.

Stoat

Widespread. The Islay Stoats have been described as a separate race, Mustela erminea ricinae, based on smaller size and minor differences in head measurements, but this is not widely accepted. Despite the lack of snow on Islay, many of our Stoats turn white in winter.

Ferret

Ferrets have been released or escaped on the island and are common and widespread, particularly in the rabbit warrens. They occur in two main colour types, either yellowy-white all over or brown with bold dark and light markings on the head, when they resemble Polecats, which, however, have never occurred here.

Otter

Found round the coasts, up the rivers and burns, and in inland lochs, and probably as common on Islay as anywhere in Scotland. They are usually shy and easily disturbed, but quiet watching overlooking undisturbed stretches of the coast will often reveal them.

Cat

Feral cats occur in a number of areas, especially in the larger rabbit warrens. The genuine Wild Cat has never occurred on Islay.

Mink

Unfortunately, escaped Mink from the mainland of Argyll have been turning up in recent years on Islay, presumably swimming here, via Jura.

Common Seal

Several hundreds occur round the coasts, especially from Ardbeg eastwards, but they are also found in Loch Indaal, hauled out on the skerries south of Bowmore.

Grey Seal

Breeds on Nave Island and can be seen hauled out on the sandbanks in Loch Gruinart, and also on the islands opposite Portnahaven, occasionally coming right into the harbour there.

Red Deer

A population of some thousands is present, mainly on the hills in the east and north, but there are up to 100 on the Rinns, especially round the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve.

Fallow Deer

Only occurs in the south-east of the island, from about Lagavulin eastwards, where it is quite numerous.

Roe Deer

Widespread and common on the low ground and in the forestry plantations, usually in ones or twos.

Goat

Feral Goats are well established on the Oa and around the west and north coasts. A census in 1985 revealed at least 250.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WHALES, DOLPHINS AND PORPOISES

Sperm, Minke and Pilot Whales have all been washed up dead on Islay beaches in recent years, and the last two are sometimes seen close inshore, as are Killer Whales. White-beaked, Bottle-nosed, Common and Risso's Dolphins, as well as Porpoises, are also seen, with Bottle-nosed Dolphins the commonest, frequently coming right into Loch Indaal and Port Ellen Bay. Two Striped Dolphins were found dead on beaches in 1992 and another in 1999. This species used to be very rare in Scottish waters but has become more frequent in recent years. Sightings of all cetaceans are especially welcome, whether dead or alive.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS

Great Crested Newt

Possibly occurs; please keep a look out.

Common Toad

Widespread and common. Among important breeding sites are Lochs nan Giol, Tallant and Conailbhe.

Common Frog

Widespread and locally abundant.

Common Lizard

Widespread, though not common.

Adder

The only snake on Islay. It is widely distributed, but believed to have declined in recent years.

Slow-worm

This species occurs on Jura, but not on Islay.

Issued by the Islay Natural History Trust, Islay Field Centre, Port Charlotte, Isle of Islay, PA48 7TX.

Back to top

Last revised: 30 December 1999