Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ribbit and Croak

We have an abundance of toads around our house and in the back woods.  A tough life for these welcome little amphibians because they are at the bottom of the food chain in many instances.  Hawks, owls, snakes, and even larger mammals will eat them given a chance.  This chubby little "American Toad" is holding still in hopes I won't notice him.  Another hazard for toads and frogs is the lawn mower.  When you see movement in the grass ahead of your mower, slow down and let them hop to safety. 

Toads and frogs are interesting to watch and provide nature a great insect pest removal system.  They can eat up to 1,000 insects a day.  That's better efficiency than man-made devices.  This toad is sunning to help get limbered up for the day.  Providing a place for the toads to have a daily water soak is easy.  Bury a shallow dish (old dinner plate, plant pot saucer, wash basin)  almost to the outside rim and fill with water.  Keep it filled every day the weather isn't freezing.  A rock or two will give them a place to sun.  It's best if these places are in a semi protected place so as not to attract frog eating birds.   
Toads and frogs are VERY sensitive to pesticides - which is absorbed through their skin.  Again, if you want natures' predictors to do your dirty work you must not use chemicals that might harm them.  This little guy (or gal) is making good use of his coloring design to stay hidden from predators.  Providing fallen logs, leaf debris and rocks is a way to welcome them.  A perfectly manicured, chemically treated yard will not be a good place for amphibians.

Toads and frogs need an insect population, water and moist areas, pesticide free foliage, and hiding places.  In the winter, they will burrow into the earth and hibernate.  It's fun to provide shelter homes for toads and frogs although they seem to do fine on their own.  Providing shelters is a great kids' project.  Teach children to watch them instead of handling them.  Most have a rather unpleasant sticky substance they secrete from their skin when frightened, plus, the all thrilling panic pee they often do when picked up. 

This fish pond with water lettuce was a perfect perch for toad dinners.  Patiently waiting for an insect to buzz the water where it became instant buffet.  This little one lived inside the hole to the left where the pump wires entered.  On warm summer evenings we are serenaded by the many calls of our resident toads and frogs.  Sometimes it sounds like a string being pulled through a Quaker Oats container, other times its short chirps or low growls.      

The spider to the right of this gray guy was soon to be a meal.  Store bought toad and frog homes are also garden decoration and if you want one, there are many on the market.  There is no guarantee houses will be used by toads and frogs.  Plan to leave it in the same place for years.  Insects will start to live in it and it may attract toads for just this reason.  Patience is the keyword for houses.  Don't be lifting it to check out if it's inhabited as that will make your house a threat instead of protection.    

Right below the yellow flower is a broken pot turned upside down.  It has a hole broke from the edge allowing toads or frogs to enter.  In the hot summer it is shaded by foliage and the perfect hiding place.  Not only do they hide from enemies, they need damp shade to replenish and preserve moisture on their skin during hot days.

Frogs and toads are not particular about how their shelters look.  It needs to be dark, damp, mostly enclosed, cool and protected from predators.  A coffee can sitting on it's side and half buried will work and its an easy project for children to build.  Fill half the inside with soil so they will have a nice resting spot. 

Frogs and toads you may see in this area of Illinois:  American toad, Fowler's toad, Cricket frog, Gray treefrogs, Spring peeper frog, Western chorus frog, Plains leopard frog, Bullfrog, Green frog, Northern leopard frog, and a couple more may venture away from the larger bodies of water in particularly wet years.  To paraphrase the movie, if your habitat is friendly "they will come".  

“To a toad, what is beauty?
A female with two pop-eyes,
a wide mouth,
yellow belly and spotted back”

- Voltaire (French Philosopher and Writer - 1694-1778)    

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