One of my greatest pleasures is to hear my first American Toad “singing” from my yard.
Starting early in the spring, shortly after the first frogs get amorous, the toads join the nighttime chorus. It’s hard to describe the sound, but imagine a very long, loud trill emanating from yours or your neighbour’s yard, for 30-40 seconds non-stop. It goes on for hours, day after day sometimes, as the male searches for a mate.
Interestingly, each male produces a slightly different “song” and with practice you can recognize which one is calling on any given night!
Then suddenly one night it stops without warning. It is then that I know that he was successful in his search for a mate.
In Ontario, we have two species of toad - the Fowler’s and American. The Fowler’s is extremely rare and will not be found in our region. To see it one must go to Lake Erie for it persists along suitable beaches in that zone. One good place to look for it is at Rondeau Provincial Park. The American Toad on the other hand is very common still, and lives amongst us in both our wild and urban spaces.
'Ontario Nature' describes the American Toad as a large amphibian that has brown, reddish or olive skin and dark blotches, containing one to two spots or “warts” of various colours. The belly is white with dark spots. These toads often have a light line down the middle of the back.
Adult American Toads grow to about 11 centimetres long and can live to be 3-5 years old. Their thick skin helps prevent dehydration and allows them to use drier habitats than those suitable for many other amphibians.
Breeding occurs in warm, shallow ponds and streams, along river margins, and even in large puddles and roadside ditches. The egg masses are laid in quiet waters, such as those chosen for mating, from late March to early June, depending on where they live. Two egg strands will be deposited in the water by the female, usually wrapped around submerged vegetation. Many eggs will be in each cluster and they will hatch several days or weeks after laying.
The tadpoles of this species are nearly black and appear as tiny wiggling little critters that dash for cover on your approach.
This year I have hundreds in my little garden pond. Approximately 50-65 days are required for the ‘toadpoles’ to completely develop, and at that time hundreds of tiny ‘toadlets’ emerge and head off for the terrestrial part of their life cycle.
Watch for these tiny, perfectly formed little amphibians at this time of year, as they search of insects and other invertebrates. Being primarily nocturnal, they hide in leaf litter or dig shallow burrows during the day and emerge at night to feed.
By the way you can’t get warts from a toad. The bumps are not warts, but are actually just lumpy protrusions on the skin, so don’t worry. But be wary, for young tadpoles and toads do have poisonous parotid glands in their skin that can irritate a predator if handled. Although people are generally not affected by this “poison”, a dog that picks up a toad will drop it and may foam at the mouth, but will not be hurt.
Late in the fall, as the temperatures drop, American Toads hibernate on land and burrow beneath the frost line in the soil, they will re-emerge the following spring as the soil temperature increases.
Toads, like so many other animals, are under threat from development, habitat loss, cats, cars and more, but they are more adaptive than most, and seem to be able to thrive in our urban landscapes, at least the semi-urban ones. This is partly because they are habitat generalists, and therefore the loss of a specific habitat type does not seriously affect this species.
Fun Facts: A bunch of toads is called a knot. Toads may also play dead, or puff themselves up to appear bigger, if they feel threatened by predators. Toads do not have teeth, so they do not chew their food, instead they swallow it whole.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com, and on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.