I heard the astonishing hum around the second week in June coming from the bog on North Pond. The toads were singing – advertising that it was time to mate. I knew from earlier years that within a few days long strings of eggs would be laid in shallow waters, soon to hatch into wiggling “toad –poles.”
Unfortunately, a hand injury kept me from exploring the pond in my kayak for toads and eggs. I was so disappointed, and then a few days ago I was walking down by the pond, when I saw them. The eggs had hatched.
I returned three times in all to gather toad –poles to augment my toad population around the house, placing some in a vernal pool, and even created a small aquarium indoors to watch seven wiggling characters transform.
There is something magical about raising eggs that turn into terrestrial creatures, and although I missed the first stage I was excited to be able to participate in the rest of the process.
With all amphibians comprising the most endangered species on earth, assisting any frog or toad to adulthood seems like a worthy endeavor. But I began to raise frog and toad eggs as a child, and have been doing it ever since because it is so exciting! What follows is a bit of natural history:
Toad eggs hatch in three to twelve days and some studies suggest that the tadpoles have a reciprocal relationship with Chlorogonium algae, which makes the tadpoles develop faster than normal. Toad tadpoles are considered herbivores because they graze on aquatic vegetation; adult toads are carnivorous. Often entire groups of tadpoles reach the toadlet stage at once and a mass migration to higher ground takes place usually to shaded woodland areas with plenty of vegetation (this occurs around here early in August most years when tiny toads appear in the grass or dirt roads in profusion). Toadlets can be observed eating microscopic bugs; as they get larger they also love ants, spiders, snails, beetles, slugs and worms. Unlike most toads who wait for prey to come along American toads can shoot out their sticky tongues to catch prey; they also use their front legs in order to eat larger food. They grasp their prey and push it into their mouths. Some toads also wipe their mouths with their four fingered “hands” after eating. One American toad can eat up to 1,000 insects a day. Just one more reason to raise some toads!
It takes two to three years for a toad to reach adulthood and sexual maturity. Toads usually don’t live more than 3-5 years in the wild although they can live up to thirty to forty years in captivity.
I should add that the Eastern toad has a western counterpart. However, the Western toad has become ‘functionally extinct.’ This means that its numbers are so low that this identical species will not survive. Damning the rivers, ongoing drought, pollution, and agricultural pesticides are some of the culprits. In the spring it is eerily silent in the desert because toad trills are absent.
The disappearance of these amphibians has been noted since the 1970’s and we have yet to ban common but deadly pesticides. All toads breathe through their skin. These creatures are warning us that the air we breathe and the water we drink is polluted by dangerous chemicals. Frogs and toads are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine trying desperately to get our attention; if only we would listen…