Toad-ally Cool

Toad-ally Cool

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Amphibians are bellwethers for us–they let us know what conditions are like in our wetlands. Worldwide, they don’t seem to be faring well. According to Amphibiaweb, in the last 20 years or so, 168 amphibian species have gone extinct–you know, disappeared forever. Almost 1/3 of amphibians are threatened with disappearing the world over. Fatal fungi and habitat destruction seem to be the gravest threats.

With the possible exception of the Egyptians who encountered the Hebrew prophet, Moses, most people like amphibians. 07EXODUS3-master675-v2

Depending upon where you live you might have frogs and/or toads, salamanders, or even caecilians as neighbors.

The one thing that ties all amphibians together (OK, perhaps there is more than one thing) is their double life: exisiting on land and water.

Some of them, like caecilians, which includes sirens, spend their entire lives in water. Others, like toads and some salamanders, use aquatic habitat primarily for breeding. Frogs, probably the most recognized amphibian, can be found on land and in the water throughout their adult life-span.

I’m going to focus on toads for this post because…they are found in my neighborhood–my backyard even.

Michigan has two species of toad: the Eastern American toad (‘Merica!), Bufo americanus, and the Fowler’s toad, Bufo woodhousiifowleri. The latter is found along the western third of the lower peninsula, whereas the Eastern American is distributed everywhere, including the U.P. (Upper Peninsula). It’s also found in eastern Canada, and of course, the eastern U.S.

Fowler’s toad (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Eastern American toad distribution

Fowler’s toad distribution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toads, if you didn’t know, have dry skin and can be gray, brown, reddish-brown, tan, or even olive. Their backs have dark spots, and at times dark spotting is on the throat and belly, but usually that area is whitish or yellowish. Adults are generally anywhere from two to four inches in length–though I saw a giant toad in Canada once (perhaps my tiny boy eyes made the beast appear larger?).

Probably the toad’s signature identifier is the appearance of warts along its back and head. Their short legs, though the hind ones are longer than the front, give them a squat look. Combine squat and warty and you get Sqwarty. That sums up a toad–Sqwarty. Ranging in length from two to over four inches, toads are smaller than many of their frog cousins. That makes them easy to step on, unfortunately.

What’s for Dinner?

Toads won’t eat your crops. They are insectivores and expand their palate to include spiders and earthworms. Supposedly, they can consume 26 insects a day for a total of 3,200 from May to August. Not quite as prolific insect devourers as bats, they still provide ecosystem services pro bono.

Where to Look

     If you look in open woodlands and the edges as well, you might find a toad–or multiple ones. If you look in meadows, marshes, lake shores, and even your backyard, you might find a toad.

During hot, dry periods and during winter they are buried in moist soil or plant debris. How did they get there? Toads can dig holes with their hind feet.

Toad Love?

The season of love for toads is in April or May (it began in my neighborhood on April 9th of this year) when they begin moving to wetlands.

That irresistible sound that boy toads make is a high, sharp trill that can last up to 30 seconds, which comes from an inflated throat sac.

Toad sex is called, sexily enough, amplexus. The male clasps the female from behind her front legs and then fertilizes anywhere from 2,000 to 20,000 eggs which emerge from her body in long, gelatinous strings that attach to submerged rocks, plants, twigs, hot tubs, whatever.

Depending on the water temperature, tadpoles will hatch 3-14 days later. The pre-toads eat algae, plant material, and the dead, but not mosquito larvae unfortunately. In about 6-10 weeks they transform into toadlets and take about 2-3 years to reach their massive 2-4+ inch adult size.

Pre-toads…

…to toadlet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please Don’t Eat the Toads

A toad’s coloring and texture help camouflage it in it’s surroundings. Failing that, they can secrete an icky substance from their back warts which can be toxic to small mammals if ingested. Plan C  is to inflate with air to prevent something swallowing the toad. And if you still insist on picking them up, they’ll probably urinate in your hand.

 

Did You Know…?

  • Toads are found on all continents except Antarctica
  • A group of toads (what’s the minimum number? I. Don’t. Know.) is called a knot
  • They have no teeth
  • According to my sources they are nocturnal, but I’ve found plenty of toads in the daytime. The mating call does tend to start around dusk, however.
  • The lucky ones can live for 20-40 years
  • While you can find them near water when it isn’t mating season, they’ll generally be found in drier areas.

Toads have made it into 20th Century pop culture:

A series of stories for early readers–something from my childhood.

I didn’t read this as a child, but I did read it to my son.

Everything gets appropriated by Disney!

  • Have you ever held a toad in your hand? Aside from the small puddle of urine, you’ll also notice the cool, clammy, thin skin. It’s like holding a small pouch of bones.

 

 

 

 

 

Do what you can to encourage toads to visit your backyard. Your children will thank you.

 

 

 

 

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Froggy went-a-courtin’

So, what did you hear in May? Did you spot any amphibians? I found a salamander, nowhere near my back yard, but still…outside of the Great Smoky Mountains and one specimen in Pennsylvania, I’ve only seen three salamanders in Michigan in my entire life. I also spotted a bullfrog on that day–didn’t hear him, though.
Early May was quite dry in SE Michigan, so the toads stopped, but then after some rainy days last week, the boys picked up their trilling tones again to catch the ears of some girls. At my second backyard (about 40 miles away from my primary backyard) I heard the green frogs call along with a few chorus frogs still hanging around. The gray tree frog was starting his season as well, two weeks back. As the spring winds down, some species breeding ends while others pick up. Keep your ears open, triangulate, and then try to spot the little hoppers before the water evaporates and fall is here again.IMG_0485

Frog Holler

Bufo americanus or American toad

Bufo americanus or American toad


Returning and permanent resident birds were featured last month, now for May we move closer to the ground and even into the water. Birds and insects appear with the unveiling of spring, but so do amphibians. You can’t hear salamanders, but you can enjoy the singing of frogs and toads.
They, like birds, are trying to attract the attention of amorous females, and one way to do that is to call–loudly and incessantly. Here in SE Michigan usually the first two species to call are the wood frogs and chorus frogs. They can start as early as March if it warms enough. The toad, lowly as it is (pictured above) begins calling in April. From there we hear the green frog, perhaps the leopard frog, the gray tree frog, and in some special locations, the bullfrog.
Amphibians are an indicator species, so if you have water (or wet spots) in your neighborhood, and you don’t hear some kind amphibian yawp, you might have polluted water or the creatures were extirpated for some reason.
The natural sounds of nature can at times annoy, but really, the trill of a toad beats some idiot neighbor’s booming bass, doesn’t it? The plucked banjo string call of the green frog is more soothing than the summer ritual of loud fireworks exploding in a nearby yard, is it not?

As far as resources go, I’ve found this book to be very helpful. Of course, if you don’t live in Michigan it won’t do you much good, but I’m sure one of your universities has a similar publication. The internet is an excellent resource for hearing what these critters sound like, until you can identify them on your own–I still get wood frogs and chorus frogs mixed up. At times when I hear the tree frog grunt and chirp, I think I’m hearing a bird. Perhaps you’ll be a better student than me. Get outdoors and listen.