I get out into parks a lot. Lately I’ve gone hiking through them on a daily basis, weather permitting, and during the first week of July there were 3 consecutive days that I noticed quite a few interesting creatures on park paths and roads; at times it seemed like there was a veritable flood of them.
This resulted in one comical scene where I was nudging one with the toe of my boot, trying to hurry the little fellow up while leisurely crossing a park road. Mission accomplished, though I probably didn’t make a new friend that day!
These little creatures are young toads, and for those few days they hopped all over the place. They are amphibians, which generally have greatly different phases of life. Their eggs had hatched in the spring, releasing tadpoles into bodies of water, and the survivors had changed into classic toad shapes within a brief window of time. Their color and appearance varied somewhat, which is a common occurrence.
Toads have dry warty skin, compared to frogs which tend to have smoother wet skin- though toads are actually a type of frog, taxonomically speaking. It is an old myth that their warts are contagious, proving that such folk legends can sometimes be mistaken. Warts on toads are actually a defense mechanism- they produce a liquid irritant that burns the mouth of any predator that attempts to eat them. Few critters would make that mistake twice!
There are 2 common species of toads in Ohio: the American Toad and Fowler’s Toad. These two species can hybridize, which can confuse the situation somewhat. Suffice it to say that the American Toad has fewer warts upon its back, and the Fowler’s Toad has an unspotted belly. They also have different songs.
Insects and invertebrates make up the bulk of a toad’s diet, making them a beneficial neighbor to humans. They prefer being around shallow or temporary pools of water, but live on the land, hiding under various objects such as logs and stones. They will dig deep down into the ground to hibernate during the winter, and emerge to lay their eggs in water the following spring. And so the circle of life continues.
Toads- and amphibians in general- are bellwether animals, giving us important information about the state of the environment. There has been a general decline in population numbers in the last couple of decades across the globe for various reasons. Let’s hope we keep seeing them around.