Naturalist’s Notebook: A Guest in the Garden!

This morning I was working in the garden, one of my favorite activities. After planting potatoes and watermelons yesterday, I decided to prepare the next row in the garden to grow something I can’t eat. I’m going to sow seeds of sunflowers and zinnias, beautiful flowers that will provide nectar and pollen for insects like bees, moths and butterflies. They will pollinate my crops and pose for my photos. A win-win!

 I was just finishing this task when I heard something rustling in the leaves at the gardens edge about four feet away. It was a guest I had not met yet at my new place – an American Toad!  The very handsome reddish-brown beauty, loaded with warts, stopped and checked me out.

Now this is the type of company I like! Toads eat snails, slugs, insects and worms. Miss Toad will help protect my plants from critters that are not welcome in the garden. A long toad tongue might be the last thing a strawberry-eating slug sees before it becomes a snack.

The American Toad is the most common and widespread toad in this country. They live in fields and woods wherever there is lots of food, logs or rocks to live under and shallow water somewhere nearby to lay their eggs. (Food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.)

I mentioned warts earlier. Toads have lots of warts, as you can see from my pictures. Some folks think you get warts from a toad. Do you? 

Don’t worry, warts are caused by a virus, not from handling an amphibian like Miss Toad. You can’t get warts from a toad.

You might be wondering why I keep calling my toad a female. In the spring of the year, male toads have a black or dark brown throat, female throats are white. My toad friend had a white throat.

In the wild, most toads probably don’t live more than one or two years. A small number may live quite a bit longer. 

During mating season in early spring females la thousands of eggs in long, curly strings. These hatch into tadpoles which with luck will grow into young toads. Lots of animals like to eat tadpoles, so not many survive to adulthood. Since some of the places toads lay eggs are very shallow water, like ditches, seasonal wetlands or even mud puddles, they could dry up before the tadpoles have time to mature, and a whole brood is lost.

In the fall they dig backwards into the ground under the shelters they call home in warmer weather. There they hibernate through the winter. Their breathing and heart rate slows way down and they don’t eat at all, surviving on stored body fat. They are cold-blooded, or ectothermic (pronounced ECK-TOE-THERM-ICK), and can’t survive above ground in cold winter weather. Also, there is no food for a toad that time of year.

There are lots of places where my guest could spend the winter, a small wetland a few hundred yards away at the base of my hill and great spots to live very near the garden. I hope she feels welcome and stays around here. I’ll look forward to her garden visits several times this summer.

Mr. Bill

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