As we walked up the sidewalk and across the patio at my grandson’s house the other night we had to watch our footing as the ground practically moved beneath our feet. Dozens of tiny toads the size of quarters hopped in every direction with each step. An adult toad the size of a peach, probably dad or grandpa, perched at the top of the porch. We usually have multitudes of toads at the Gilliland ranch every summer, tumbling from beneath the tomato plants or leaping from under the lilacs. This year though, oddly enough our place seems to be “toad deficient.” I miss the little blighters as they are nature’s ground crew for insect control.
Toad… the name itself conjures up visions of witches adding eyes of newts and wings of bats to a bubbling caldron of potion, or a derogatory remark about a person’s physical appearance. They’re fat and pudgy, their blotchy skin is covered with lumps and warts, their spring mating call sounds like a poor lost calf calling for its mother and they pee on anyone attempting to pick them up. You gotta’ love em’! Their saving grace comes in the form of a voracious appetite for insects.
A few years back during a pervious really wet spring like this year’s, I spoke with Wildlife Diversity Coordinator for the state of Kansas, Ken Brunson, about the myriad of tiny toads that were literally everywhere that year. Just when I thought life was as simple as a toad, was a toad, was a toad, Ken informed me that toads have names too. Ken said that 95% of the toads seen in Kansas are either Woodhouse’s Toads, or Great Plains Toads. Eastern Kansas also has some American toads and Spadefoot toads. Ken linked that year’s abundance of tiny toads to the abundance of standing water in places where there hadn’t been water for ages, and the flood waters forced many from their homes near the streams and swamps where they hatched, and sent them scrambling for higher ground (sound familiar?)
Whatever their clan, all toads begin their life as jelly covered strands of eggs laid in the shallows of swamps, streams and ponds. In about one week the eggs hatch into tadpoles. Next, hind legs begin to grow, then front legs, then lungs replace the gills, the tail is absorbed into the body, and finally, two to three weeks after hatching, the youngsters hop out onto dry land. Woodhouse and Great Plains toads both grow to be three to five inches long when fully mature.
Although not particularly athletic, toads are efficient predators and do have a ravenous appetite for insects. Research suggests that a toad is capable of eating two-thirds its body weight in insects daily. Worms of all kinds seem to be favorites as they’re probably easier to catch (and I’m sure more filling!) A study done on Great Plains toads in Oklahoma found that because of their fondness for dining on over-wintering cutworms, these toads were estimated to be worth twenty-five dollars apiece per year to the agriculture industry there. Their taste for bugs can easily be seen in their droppings. The black cigar shaped droppings found in driveways and on sidewalks this time of year are in fact toad poo. When they have acres of yards, gardens and fields to potty in, I’ll never understand why they feel the need to go on the sidewalk or in the driveway (the least they could do is cart it away when they leave.) Next time you see some, take a stick and poke it apart; you’ll see it’s comprised entirely of undigested bug parts like legs and wings.
Contrary to the old-wives tale, handling a toad does not cause warts. The warts on their skin and the glands behind their eyes do however produce a toxin capable of making you sick if accidentally ingested. You’ve witnessed this toxin at work if you have ever seen your dog frothing and foaming at the mouth after playing with a toad in the yard.
With that in mind, I guess my advice to you concerning toads would be three-fold. 1) If you suddenly find your dog foaming and frothing at the mouth, don’t shoot it, it probably just licked a toad; 2) Don’t lick a toad yourself, and 3) ALWAYS hold a toad way out in front of you with both hands or you’re liable to get your shoes wet. So whenever a fat pudgy toad surprises you in the garden or flower bed, tip your hat to them and thank them for the service they provide. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]