Monday, September 11, 2017

One Cool Toad


My third grade colleague, Bruno, is a great hunting companion.  Curious, quick and built low to the ground, he is now feared by every amphibian and lizard along Bull Creek.  He caught three small toads over an hour within fifty feet of our house, not to mention a number of 3" skinks.  The little toad above was different from any I had seen before so I sent it off to Brian Edmonds who responded rapidly that it is a dwarf American toad.
"Dwarf American toads are confined more or less to the Ozarks. They are smaller than other American toads and are often reddish in coloration. The red spots are diagnostic."
Our "garden variety" toad along Bull Creek is the American toad, Anaxyrus americanus.  It turns out there are three subspecies.  The eastern American toad, Anaxyrus americanus americanus, is the one we all know and love, warts and all.
"The eastern American toad is medium-sized and has a large, kidney-shaped gland called the parotoid gland behind each eye. The pupil of each eye is horizontal. This toad may be gray, greenish gray, or various shades of brown. The dark spots on the back may encircle 1–3 warts. The belly is white with dark gray mottling. The call is a sustained, high-pitched musical trill lasting 6–30 seconds."  MDC Field Guide
"A little privacy please."  The male is considerably smaller than the female.
Toad eggs - REK
Mating begins with the long trills of the male's love song.  Breeding occurs in small ephemeral ponds or collections of water.  The photograph above was taken at a puddle left by a flood in 2011.  The female will lay 2,000 to 20,000 eggs in long double strands which develop into tadpoles over 2 months.  This is a risky business as the pond can go dry and eggs are high on the diet of many things living around the pond.

The tadpoles, like the adult, secrete a protective chemical from their skin called bufotoxin which can make predators sick.  It can be irritating to our mucous membranes and can make your dog sick but as Amphibiaweb.org mentions "toads have little defense against boys" who can be very destructive in breeding season.

Back to Bruno's find, the dwarf American toad, Anaxyrus americanus charlesmithi.  "It is smaller (only about 2 inches, snout to vent) and more reddish brown, with fewer, smaller, or no dark spots on the back; belly is cream colored with a few dark gray spots on the breast. " (MDC)  The parotoid gland is much less prominent as seen above.

The proper grip - note the red dots
When holding a toad or frog for photography, pinch a front and back leg on one side between your thumb and fore finger and they will stop kicking and hold still, but they still won't smile for the camera.  I taught Bruno this trick but he couldn't teach me how to pounce on them.

Extensive information on both species is at this Amphibiaweb.org site.

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