Tag Archives: wood frogs

Dating Season for Toads

I am glad I don’t suffer bufonophobia, a fear of toads, because a gang of American toads (Bufo americanus) live under my deck. They come out at night and sit, fat as golfballs, one of them the size of a baseball, in the moonlight. Their posturing reminds me of the T-birds and the Pink Ladies in “Grease” at the drive-in.

Careful not to step on them when I stand in the yard, I let my dog enjoy a few minutes of midnight sounds, smells and shadows, with caution. The toads barely budge if she sniffs their bumpy bodies. She doesn’t like toads, luckily. I’m nervous about taking a step, worried I might squish one, anticipating the inevitable movement—but a toad’s test of wills (or staying power) beats mine every time.

Some toads, including the American toad, have paratoid glands that can secrete a white poison to would-be predators (if bitten or handled, for instance). The poison is toxic inside a mouth—or if after a human handles a toad, touches the eye or mouth.  It can cause nausea, inflamed mouth or throat, irregular heart beat and in very severe cases—death. They can be a danger to pets for this reason. When you think about it, batrachophobes, who fear any reptiles or amphibians, have probably had an incident that caused a symptom, or knew of someone who did. I never believed one could get “warts” from a toad, but perhaps this myth originated from the handling of toads causing undesirable symptoms. National Geographic busted that myth for kids, here.

Toads are nocturnal. During the day the amphibians hide under the deck. I’ve wondered what they do all day—eat insects, sleep, burrow underground, intimidate baby garter snakes? The child in me imagines Toad and Frog riding around in their small motorcar. The ecologist in me wants to set up candid cameras under the deck and film the toads’ daytime activities.  This is their breeding time (March-July), when they emerge from their burrows to eat at night and mate. It is more likely that the underside of my short deck is dull by day and hoppin’ at night. Along patches of my seep, nicknamed “Fern Gully,” I’ve observed toadlets, baby toads, crawling along the muddy wooded floor. They are small, about an inch long in body, not counting legs. What’s amazing to me is that toad eggs can hatch in a matter of days (3-13 days) and the toadlets grow to adulthood in about a month. In Pennsylvania, there is an organization looking for volunteers to help with a program called “Toad Detour,” that seeks to help toadlets cross roads and get to safe habitats. Their website has some great photos and a recording of toad sounds. More about their work with toads is posted on the Philly Herping Blog.

My poem, “Romancing the Toad,” was published in a summer issue of the international literary magazine, Off the Coast. 

The American toad’s large range extends as south as Georgia, as west as Wisconsin and as north as Canada. There are other toads of concern throughout the U.S. For example, the endangered Arroyo toad in California depends on adiminishing wetland habitat. The Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance for Spring Amphibians kicked off its programs in Maine earlier in May, teaching people about the 9 species of frogs and toads in the state.

In other blogs, spadefoot toads have received some attention lately. Volunteers in different areas gather to help toads and frogs cross busy roads during their breeding season. A headstart program in Massachusetts visited the Cape Cod National Seashore this month to learn about vernal pools and amphibian habitat, includingspadefoot toads. According to Mass Audubon, the spadefoot is neither true toad or frog—it’s a primitive amphibian. A segment of a Hands-On Wetland Creation Workshop for Professionals, led in part by Tom Biebighauser, with the U.S. Forest Service, addressed the topic of spadefoots at the Long Pasture Sanctuary on Cape Cod. ASWM’s Executive Director, Jeanne Christie, attended.

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Once upon a Vernal Pool

Late at night, I listen to the peepers in the vernal pool down in my woods. During a vernal pool monitoring project run by the University of Maine at Orono in 2009, I learned that most wood frogs leave a vernal pool at the northeastern point of the pool and head for uplands, where they spend the summer. But a few less successful frogs go in the wrong direction. I wondered what happens to those frogs. It seemed like a riddle that prompted answering…

Yet another challenge recently there has been a lot of discussion about proposed legislative changes to protection for significant vernal pools in Maine. Many experts testified at an April 25th hearing in Augusta on the importance of vernal pool protections. They achieved their goal and the committee voted to keep the state’s vernal pool protection laws, which have been in place since 2006. For a fact sheet on Vernal Pool Regulation in Maine, see http://www.nae.usace.army.mil/reg/VernalPoolRegulationMaineFAQ.pdf For more information about the University of Maine’s Vernal Pool Project, visit:http://www.umaine.edu/vernalpools/

The vernal pool in my woods inspired this poem about a wayward wood frog named Wren.

Once upon a Vernal Pool

Once upon a midnight clearing
April rains had ceased to fall
A lonely loon far off called dearly
Wood frogs, from a vernal pool,
Carefully crawled.

Most had spawned, left the pool
Heading northeast to uplands
Except for Wren, the little fool,
A wood frog who lived for wetlands.

Little Wren, so full of cheer,
Chirped into the late May nights
When all of her friends disappeared,
She hopped to it, setting her sights

On a stream she crossed in floods
That Big Night. Fast water trailed
Down through the thick woods
And Wren climbed aboard a stick
With trembling leaves, she sailed.

To read full poem, click here.

Harbingers of Spring

Around my house, the snow is melting and the birds are chirping. Layers of ice peel back from the pond and I can see open water…it makes my heart sing. Everywhere I look, there are harbingers of an early spring, which we haven’t had here in Maine for a long time. Many people look for signs of spring near water or wetlands because returning waterfowl are a good indicator. Purple crocuses popping up through the soil has always been my favorite tell-tale sign. I haven’t heard any peeps yet coming from the nearest vernal pool but…

It makes me wonder if this warm spring weather will affect the activities of wood frogs and salamanders in vernal pools. This time of year, notices of vernal pool training workshops for volunteers make their way into my inbox. ASWM has posted a list of vernal pool activities happening around the country (that I have found so far) here:http://aswm.org/wetland-science/-vernal-pools Feel free to email us or leave a comment if you know of a vernal pool training workshop or monitoring event happening.

Below are some other stories about signs of spring this year.

Six Signs of Spring in the Chesapeake Regionhttp://www.chesapeakebay.net/news_sixsigns
ofspring.aspx?menuitem=49212

Early signs of spring
http://blogs.mdc.mo.gov/blog/?p=2871

In Vermont, Watch for harbingers of springhttp://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20100306/LIVING03/3060303/Vermont-birding-Watch-for-harbingers-of-spring

Neat blog about Spring Peepers –http://beaknfeather.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/harbingers-of-spring-peepy-toads/

Our Bay: Ospreys are a sign of springhttp://www.hometownannapolis.com/news/env/2010/02/27-13/Our-Bay-Ospreys-are-a-sign-of-spring.html

Green Thumbs Up: a blog on signs of spring in wetlands-http://www.wickedlocal.com/marshfield/fun/gardening/x776893386/Green-thumbs-up-It-s-time-to-think-spring