The story of the toads

Does your garden have toads living in it? Mine does. Oh, it's not that they're all over the place and I see them every day. I do see them occasionally though, and I like to think that the reason I don't see them more often is they're carefully camouflaged, hungrily hopping around beneath the cover of green I've provided for them. Sometimes though, conditions are right and I get much more exposure to toads than usual. May 2009 was one of those times -- in fact, it was the time when I learned more about toads than ever before.

As you may know, my yard slopes down from the front to the back, and behind my yard is a strip of common ground that is mainly trees and bush honeysuckle. This strip is only about 15-20' wide or so, and in this strip the ground slopes down quite sharply. Somewhere at the base of that slope is an area that can get saturated during wet weather, forming a large puddle (or multiple puddles -- it's not easy for me to get back there or see through the bushes).


Every spring I'll hear frogs calling back there (which reminds me that it would be really cool to have a small pond somewhere in my yard) but by late May those frogs had come and gone -- so what was making all of the frog-like sounds I was hearing every evening and morning? We had a lot of rain recently, and the "puddle" back there must be pretty large right now.

One morning (May 27) as I made my garden rounds and was facing the common ground I heard the calls not from in front of me down in the puddle, but from behind me, toward the house. A few minutes of creeping around got me zeroed in on the stream, where I saw the source of this sound: a toad!

Of course it made sense once I saw what it was, but for some reason I had never before thought of toads as jumping into water, "singing", and exhibiting other frog-like behavior. So I watched this guy for several minutes.

Something is about to happen...
There it is!

I saw the female too as she climbed out of the stream, but didn't snap any photos as it would have required me to move too much and I didn't want to spook this guy. I did watch the male climb out a few minutes later though:

Only then did I realize that my arrival had not interrupted their mating, and that there were eggs all over in the stream:

Wow, I had no idea that toad eggs came out in long strings like this!

The problem here is that although the stream definitely is a source of water, it's not a good place for toad tadpoles to live. I suspect that birds would discover the eggs almost immediately, and if they didn't the raccoons would this evening. Then even if the eggs did not become a tasty (but slimy) treat for some critters and the tadpoles hatched, they would eventually be carried down to the reservoir below and probably be sucked into the pump.

Their prospects for survival were not good. So I rescued most of them (leaving a few in the stream to hopefully prove my theory of their quick demise wrong):

Very difficult to pick up by hand.

I put them into a small glass filled with water from the stream, brought them inside, and started watching. I was amazed at how quickly they developed and hatched:

The afternoon of the day I found them.

19 hours later.

After 8 more hours.

12 hours after that they hatched (about 48 hours after being laid).

After hatching I moved them into a five-gallon bucket and fed them fish food:

4 days after hatching.
2 weeks after hatching. Notice the small ones.

They grew quickly but not all at the same rate, and sprouted legs pretty fast although not all at the same time:

I think that the tadpoles that got the most food matured more quickly -- some of these tadpoles took a couple of months to finally "grow up". I probably should have been feeding them more but I was concerned about contaminating the water.

After they climbed out of the water I would catch them and release them in the yard, usually near the stream. It was quite satisfying to see a toad hop from my fingertip onto one of the rocks and in less than a minute or two spy a gnat or an ant and have their first "free range" meal.

I don't know what the survival rate of these guys was, but I've noticed no real difference in the frequency of my toad sightings. Oh I did see some small toads around every once in a while that summer, but since I released probably three dozen of these guys I assumed I would see them nearly every day. Not the case.

This was another one of those "right place at the right time" garden experiences -- if I wasn't outside that morning at the time the male toad was calling, I would have missed the whole thing. (I would certainly have missed seeing the eggs in the stream, since they're visible in the first few toad photos and I didn't see them until much later.)

I definitely need to figure out where to put a pond in my yard. I want to see this every year!

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Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (January 9, 2011 at 6:17 PM)  

You're lucky to have toads. They're so cool. The best I could do is post about baby rats :-).

Alan  – (January 9, 2011 at 9:16 PM)  

I will definitely post about any rats I see show up in the stream this year, baby or adult. That post will contain a lot of CAPS and exclamation points!!!!!! (I've never seen a rat around here thankfully.)

Owen  – (March 13, 2011 at 8:02 AM)  

I love toads! I used to keep a few as pets when I was little. They're so personable, and much less skittish than most aquatic frogs.

Janet  – (March 23, 2011 at 4:02 PM)  

I love frogs and toads. We observe their life cyclewhen we walk the dog in one of the local woods. hard to photograph.

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