Sunday, June 16, 2013
The Amiable American Toad
I started out the mud room door the other morning, and sitting quite where I was ready to step, was an American Toad. So I gently reached down and picked up the large amphibian and relocated it in the grass off the porch. I felt good about having that big old toad around. I like toads and I’m not sure exactly why.
So a few days later, I decided to organize my wood pile on the porch and split a little kindling for those cool evening fires we will occasional raise this summer. As I worked, I looked down and there was that toad just sitting there apparently unconcerned about being exposed or threatened by my presence. It wasn’t going anywhere. It just sat there.
Well, I couldn’t help but admire this fearless amphibian. It’s hard not to like a wild thing so cool, calm, and collected. Then I began to feel a little silly because I really don’t know as much about toads as I should….or at least enough to admire them so. And when one is quilted into stupidity it was time to do a little research. That’s what wild things can do.
Toads and frogs are related but they aren’t the same. There are a whole lot of anatomical differences, but the best description works great for me: frogs leap and toads hop. This is a brilliant and accurate description, requiring no PhD. It is truly fitting that the unconcerned toad would hop away and not “leap to safety” like its more skittish relatives.
It’s hard to imagine that toads are considered by some to be repulsive and, in a less enlightened time, associated with sorcery and who knows what else. I guess it must be the “warts” on their back and the fact that they “pee” on you when you pick them up. These observations evolved into the myth that toads can give people warts. Many a responsible parent has exposed their wisdom, or lack- there-of, when they told their children not to pick them up for the potential to end up with warts. I guess it is better to speak with conviction, than it is to actually know what you are talking about.
The warts on the bumps of toad’s backs and “peeing” when handled are part of the toad’s survival strategy. The bumps are glands that produce a liquid that can burn sensitive mouth tissues of other animals. Most animals will quickly drop the toad because of the irritation and will cause hesitation to make the same mistake of trying to eat the inviting toad the next encounter. The same toxin is usually expelled through the cloaca when the toad is picked up. So while it would irritate the mouth of a person, the toxin is harmless to humans. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage generations of children not to “eat” toads rather than that other thing?
Like frogs, toads gather in shallow pools in the spring, where each female lays about 12,000 eggs that hatch into jet-black tadpoles that become tiny toads in June. Toads like moist areas where they absorb water through their skin because they don’t drink water. They are found in such places almost everywhere, urban and rural. If you mulch your beds, you are inviting toads. And you want toads around because they eat a lot of insects, slugs, earthworms, sow bugs, and larvae. One report estimates that the average toad eats about 10,000 insects during the three months of the summer.
I learned a lot about toads that I should have already known. It does not, however, explain why I never met a toad I didn’t like. Thankfully there are things in nature that one can love and respect without knowing all the facts: like hearing a flying hummingbird and not having to see it to bring a smile on your face or finding a toad in the woodpile. I just like the amiable American Toad and a myriad of life in “nowhere”, large and small.