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Toad-day’s the Day!

Have you seen a toad in the Biosphere? I’ll bet you have! For some reason, we sometimes hear that toads are yucky and ugly, but once you get to know toads you will learn that they are TOAD-ally awesome animals!

Let’s start by clearing up some confusion. Toads are similar to frogs but not exactly the same. It’s kind of like they are cousins! Both toads and frogs are amphibians, meaning they spend part of their life living in the water and part of it living on land. Check out the table below to see how frogs and toads are different and similar.

In Ontario there are 2 species (types) of toads: the American toad and the Fowler’s toad. Chances are you have seen an American toad but not a Fowler’s toad. This is because American toads live all across Ontario, but Fowler’s toads only live in a few places in Ontario (on the north shore of Lake Erie).

Toads can be found in a variety of habitats, from lawns to forests. As long as toads have food and shelter from predators, they aren’t too picky. Unlike frogs, toads can live far from water. This is because a toad’s dry, thick skin prevents their bodies from drying up, so they don’t need to spend as much time in the water.

American Toad photo by Kayla Martin

Tricky Toads

We love to see toads but toads don’t like to be seen! Their bumpy brown skin helps them hide among leaves, fallen logs, and rocks on the ground. This method of hiding by looking just like the surrounding environment is called camouflage. Toads also avoid being seen by being most active at night, when many predators (animals that might try to eat them!) are asleep.

Did you know toads have a secret defense, just in case a predator tries to eat them? Underneath their bumpy skin toads have glands (groups of special skin cells) that produce a toxic poison. They store the poison in the Parotoid glands –those bumps behind their eyes. If a predator (like a snake, hawk, heron, or raccoon) tries to eat the toad, the toad oozes white goo that contains the toxins from these glands. It tastes gross and can make the predator sick, so they might spit out the toad and leave it alone. In case you were wondering, these toxins are not dangerous to humans unless you swallow them or get them in your eyes.

Transforming Toads

Did you know that toads transform into different body shapes throughout their lifetime? In spring, adult toads go to wetlands (like ponds, slow rivers, and marshes) to breed. You can hear males making a loud trilling sound in spring as they try to attract females.

After mating in the water, female toads lay their eggs in the water so that the eggs won’t dry up. Toads lay all their eggs in a strand. The eggs develop into tiny baby toads, called tadpoles. Toad tadpoles look nothing like adult toads!  They have no arms or legs but they have a tail and gills so they can live underwater. As the tadpoles grow bigger, they grow their legs first. Next, they grow their arms and at the same time their tails start to shrink. They also develop lungs that allow them to breathe air.

This whole process slowly happens over about 2 months. At the end of the process, the teeny tiny toads (called toadlets) hop out of the water and go explore land in search of bugs to eat. Eventually they grow into adult toads and if they are lucky they can live to be around 10 years old. There might be a toad out there that’s the same age as you!

Activity: Make a Toad Abode

Would you like to have a toad for a neighbour? Toads can help you out in the garden, too! Toads love to eat bugs, slugs, and other little creatures that try to eat our garden plants. By inviting a toad to live nearby you can help keep your garden growing because the toad will help keep the pests under control. 

Toads like to have shelter to hide in. A great way to encourage toads to live in your yard is to provide them with shelter. We like to call it a toad abode, because abode is another word for a home and “toad abode” is fun to say. It’s very easy to set up a toad abode!

Toads make great neighbours. Photo by Kayla Martin

1. Find a small clay container, about the size of a mug or slightly smaller. I used a small clay flower pot! You may decorate it with paint if you’d like. 

2. You know what they say about real estate: “location, location, location!” It’s important to choose a good location for your toad abode. Find a spot in soil/sand with plants to provide some shade. 

3. Time to set up your toad abode! Luckily the construction process is very easy. Just dig a little ditch in the soil or sand, then lay the pot on its side in the ditch. Set it so that most of the pot is above the ground, but a little is below. Spread some of the soil into the pot and pack some of the soil around the sides of the pot so the toad abode stays in place. 

4. Be patient and hope that a toad finds the new toad abode! In the meantime, be proud of your efforts to help local toads and remember all the cool things you learned about toads!

Blog post by Kayla Martin, July 2020

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