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The Not-So-Mediocre Amphibian

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American toad  toad eggs

Frogs are the ‘golden child’ of the amphibian world. Their smooth skin, webbed feet, and ability to jump far has categorized them as cute. Heck, we even learn from a young age that if you kiss a frog it might turn into a prince! Poor toads on the other hand are viewed as ugly, filthy amphibians that will give you warts. This myth started because of their bumpy skin. Just like they’re not going to get smooth skin by touching you, you’re not going to get bumpy skin by touching a toad. You can actually use these bumps to tell two different toad species apart, the American toad (Anaxyrus americanus; pic 1) and Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri). Toads have dark patches on their skin and if there are 3 or fewer bumps inside the dark patch it is an American toad, while more than three indicates a Fowler’s toad. Because of their slow hopping and abundant population, they are easy to catch for humans and predators alike. Toads won’t infect you with warts, but they do have two undesirable traits for survival. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been with a group of kids and they erupt in disgust after a toad has peed on me. It is almost inevitable that you will be peed on if you choose to handle this animal. If you’re a predator, this behavior may even prevent you from eating it. Their second defense involves the large bumps behind their eyes that secrete poison, called parotoid glands. Unfortunately for the toads, certain animals such as hognosed snakes, garter snakes, raccoons, and herons have adapted resistance to toad toxin and will still gobble them up. Toads are typically found on the forest floor, inhabiting moist areas such as leaf litter and decomposing logs. They are solitary except during breeding season around April/May when they aggregate in ponds to lay eggs. Males first attract females with a long trill mating call. Successful males clasp the female in a copulatory embrace called amplexus (pic 2). Each female will lay thousands of eggs in strands (pic 2). Tiny, jet black tadpoles emerge after 1-2 weeks and by June they’ll have undergone metamorphosis and developed into toadlets. This mass emergence results in pond-dwelling animals feasting upon tadpoles in the spring, while land-dwelling animals feast upon toadlets in the summer. Not only do toads provide food for a number of animals, they reduce pests by eating insects and invertebrates hiding within the leaf litter. Toads can change color based on temperature, humidity, and stress. Their different hues of brown coloring and bumps help give them some of the best camouflage, so although they are nocturnal, you can often scare one out of its hiding place during your next hike.

~Tracy