Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Trilling Toads

The air was thick yesterday, almost sultry. Warmer and stickier than it should be so early in the growing season. By early evening the air had cleared with the aid of a nice breeze.

Earlier in the day I heard several new woodland arrivals. A wood thrush sang ee-oh-lay, then uttered a rapid pit-pit-pit. He competed with an ovenbird that loudly proclaimed its arrival by singing teacher, teacher, teacher.

In late afternoon I listened to a chorus of American toads trilling along the shore of Pawtuckaway Lake. Many toads called for mates. One toad began to trill, then another, then another, and so on down the shore, each on a slightly different pitch. The toad inflates his vocal sac -- like a bubble gum bubble at his throat -- continuously forcing air over its vocal cords to create a trill for up to 30 seconds.

This short, stout toad spends only a few weeks at the water's edge. The rest of the year it wanders alone in the upland. I see them hopping among our gardens, sometimes hurrying to bury themselves backwards into the soft soil. I see them while hiking at several thousand feet, and all places in between.

The American toad is a lovely amphibian, warts and all. After mating the female toad will lay a black necklace of eggs. Frogs lay eggs in clusters, while the toads lay their eggs in strings. Toads protect themselves from predators -- such as snakes, raccoons, and skunks -- by secreting toxins from skin glands. These secretions are relatively harmless to humans, although may cause some irritation if in contact with mucous membranes. I am happy to see a plump toad in the garden helping to control unwanted pests. A good sign of a healthy yard.

Trill on Mr. Toad.

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