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 Created: 03/31/03


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Bufo terrestris

This is the first section of an article about Toad Night.
You can view the second section here.

March 31, 2003 – TOAD NIGHT, my favorite event of the year, took place on Friday, March 28. Now, if you are a city-slicker (as I once was) you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. And if you are a country bumpkin, unless you live near a small body of fresh water, you may be just as clueless as those city-slickers. So sit down and grab a cup of coffee. You are about to learn something important.

First, the Backdrop...
We live "out in the country" in the deep south. Our property consists of 75 secluded acres, mostly pine and mixed hardwoods. The focal point of this land is our 8-acre spring-fed pond, Kilmer Pond, which is teeming with native aquatic wildlife – largemouth bass, bream (bluegills), catfish, yellow-bellied and red-eared turtles, snappers, stinkpots, and soft-shelled turtles, bullfrogs, chorus frogs, spring peepers and many other creatures too small, too slimy, or too wicked to mention.

I was born and raised in Rochester, NY, so this is not my native habitat. Despite the fact that we've lived here for almost 20 years, sometimes I feel like an outsider, still fascinated by the presence and behavior of our neighboring wildlife.

Every spring, we witness a remarkable event that we call TOAD NIGHT. My husband and I wait for Toad Night to arrive
with all the excitement and anticipation of a child waiting for Santa to slide down the chimney. The actual date for Toad Night depends on a number of seasonal factors, so we can never plan for it ahead of time. We've kept records on Toad Night since 1985. It can occur anytime during a 5 to 6 week period – it's really up to the toads to decide. Our earliest recorded Toad Night took place on March 7, 1992; the latest on April 14, 1993, and again in 1996.

Life as a Toad
I guess the most tactful way to describe Toad Night is to say it is a "coming out party" for toads. A particular species of toad, that is – Bufo terrestris, the Southern Toad.
To understand why this is such a major event, let's take a look at life from a toad's point of view.

If you are a Southern Toad, you are a solitary, shy, nocturnal creature that usually hides during the day in dark, damp places. You come out at night in search of invertebrates – worms, grubs, slugs, spiders and what-not. This is how you pass your time, day after day, week after week, month after month. In October, when the weather starts turning cold, you look for a nice place to hibernate. If you're lucky, the ground is soft and you are able to dig yourself an earthen burrow; otherwise you must find cover in deep leaf litter, under dead logs, or within some other insulating debris.

Whatever the case, you establish your den. As the weather gets colder, your metabolism slows. Your senses are dulled and you drift off. By March, you've spent the last 4 to 5 months in a stupor. But as the days get warmer, so does the soil. Your body temperature rises and you slowly wake up.

The Wake-up Call
On our property, we always know when the toads are beginning to awaken. Although we can't see them, we hear isolated chirps and trills scattered around us, almost as if the toads are stretching and yawning. Sometimes we even see a few toads here and there, blinking in the sunlight, having just emerged from their burrows. This is usually the first indication that Toad Night might happen in the next day or two. But we are mere humans. As intelligent, interested and observant as we might be, we cannot second-guess the toads. We lack their sensitivity to the subtleties of ground temperature, sunlight, barometric pressure and moisture. Furthermore, we are insensitive to the Southern Toad's powerful sex pheromones. My husband and I have learned to accept the fact that Toad Night will come – or it won't –
whenever the toads decide. Once they decide it is going to be Toad Night, thousands of them heed the call... and then ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE here on Kilmer Pond.

More to Come
Such are the events leading up to Toad Night. In the next installment, you can experience Toad Night for yourself.

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