After the long, silent winter, it is such a treat to hear the thrilling call of the American Toad once again. If you live near a wetland, then you have probably listened to it and wondered what it was. An individual toad call is a high-pitched rapid trill lasting 20-30 seconds, but when a whole knot of toads calls together it is loud and lovely!
Only the male toad is able to make the call, which he uses in the spring to attract female toads for mating. One female toad can lay up to 20,000 eggs–unbelievable! She chooses a pond, lake, river, swamp or even sometimes a very large puddle to put them in. After 2-8 days tiny tadpoles appear and feed on algae and plankton. These tiny tadpoles are a great source of food for many wild animals including fish, birds, turtles and small mammals. By July, any surviving toad tadpoles leave the water as tiny toadlets, less than an inch long. Once on land toads stalk their prey and use their long tongue with lightning speed to catch any unwary insect, worm or snail.
To avoid being eaten themselves, toads have some interesting defense mechanisms. When threatened by a predator they will puff themselves up to appear larger than their full adult size of 3 inches. If this fails, the next step is to release toxins from the gland on their head. The toxin tastes bitter and can make any animal with a mouth full feel sick. The defense of last resource is the one I am most familiar with, and is pretty yucky! When picked up a toad will “go to the bathroom” in hopes of being released quickly. It never fails to get a reaction from the visiting schoolchildren.
The American Toad is a real star here at North Mississippi Regional Park. Every spring hundreds of young students are thrilled at the prospect of catching as many tadpoles as will fit into their net. We often see toads as small as your fingernail up to the full grown size that will fit in the palm of your hand, and they are so easy to catch. Unlike Leopard frogs which can leap 5 feet in one jump, the toad can only muster a 6-12 inch hop, which is great for a naturalist like me. We also have two toads that live at the Kroening Interpretive Center that you can visit any time.
As entertaining as these toads are, there is a serious side to them as well. Frogs and toads serve as environmental indicators. Because of their permeable skin they are sensitive to chemicals and pollution in the environment. So, be glad the next time you happen upon a hopping toad, it is a good sign that all is well.
Join us for the following nature programs. Reservations required. Call 763-559-6700. Riverwalk, Mississippi Flyway, Sat., May 2, 9-10 a.m., all ages, free. Mississippi Mud Painting, Sat., May 2, 1-3 p.m., ages 4+, $5. The Outdoor Classroom, Sat., May 9, 9:30 a.m.-noon, ages 18+, $5. Warbler Walk, Wed., May 13, 7:30-9 a.m., ages 16+, $5. Frog Frenzy, Sat., May 16, 10 a.m.-noon, ages 5+, $5. Sun Catchers, Sat., May 29, 10 a.m.-noon, all ages, $5.
For young children and their adults: My Baby, Me, and the Mississippi, Fishy Fish, Thurs., May 7, 10-11 a.m., ages birth-2, $5 for adult/child. Puppet Escapades, River Puppets and the Baby Animal, Fri., May 8, 10-11a.m., ages 2-6, $4 each-adult and child. Nature Explorers, Float Your Boat, Tues., May 19, 10-11:30 a.m., ages 2-5, $5 each-adult and child.
For all ages: Come by on Sunday afternoons anytime between 1-3 p.m. for Free Family Fundays. Enjoy Spring Nests and Eggs on May 3, Animal Babies on May 10, Feed the Animals on May 17, Water Experiments on May 24, Pond Dipping on Monday, May 25, and Storywalking The Raft on May 31. Reservations not required. Call 763-694-7693 or visit threeriversparks.org.