Into The Outdoors 5/27/14

Have you ever heard the expression, “He’s so ugly, he’s cute.”?  Whoever originated it might very well have been speaking of the American toad.  Let’s kick things off this week with a look at these little critters, one of which has taken up residence under our patio.
The American toad is found in North America.  They’re sort of chubby little guys, with skin coloring ranging all the way from yellow to black.  Toads are amphibians, closely related to frogs, although they are seen on land much more often than their cousins.  Their legs are short, with four toes on the front legs.  They feed almost exclusively on insects, although they will occasionally eat earthworms and slugs, depending on availability.  They are constantly hungry, and feed any time they are active, especially at night.  For this reason, they are very beneficial to have around the garden.  They use their long, sticky tongue to capture prey.  Their diet includes, but is not limited to, crickets, mealworms, earthworms, ants, spiders, slugs, centipedes, moths and a lot of others.
Toads can live almost anywhere, ranging from fields to forests.  They require a freshwater pond or pool for their early development.  They are most active at night, especially during periods of hot weather.  In the daytime under such circumstances, they hide under rocks, logs or dig into the soil.  Toads do not drink water.  Instead, they absorb it through their skin.  In a normal year, an adult toad will shed its skin about four times.
These little critters are well adapted for survival, all the way from egg to adult.  The eggs are laid in two strings and can hatch in three to thirteen days.  Unlike frog tadpoles, those of the toad are solid black in color.  They also produce toxic chemicals in their skin, which act to discourage predators.  There have been reports of fish dying after eating the tadpoles, but they are avoided by most species of fish.  They tend to mature at the same time each summer.  Each year, for example, at the Brady’s Bend boat access, there will be a day when hundreds of baby toads can be found.  Quite often, I pick up a few and bring them home to release in the garden and flower beds.  
Despite their warty appearance, the notion that a person can get warts from handling a toad is totally unfounded and ridiculous.  The so-called warts on a toad are in no way related to the viral warts that people get, yet this myth has persisted down through the centuries.  They do, however, secrete a toxic substance, so it is a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after handling one.  The toxic substance is a powerful deterrent to most predators.  One exception is the hog-nosed snake, which feeds almost exclusively on toads.  For whatever reason, they are immune to the toxin.  Humans are perhaps the biggest threat to toads, as many are crushed on the road or chopped up by lawnmowers.
Toads are just nice, inoffensive little creatures, which consume a lot of insects over the course of a spring and summer.  They are a welcome addition to any garden.
On another front, bass time is drawing ever nearer.  With all of the rain we’ve been having lately, the Allegheny is barely fishable.  Hopefully, it will settle down a bit before bass fishing rolls around.  In the near future, we will take a closer look at fishing for both largemouths and smallmouths.

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