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 Created: 04/14/03


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– Bufo occiput –
This is the third and final section of an article about Toad Night.
You can also review the first section or the second section.

April 14, 2003 – I've been writing about a subject that has long been near and dear to my heart, Toad Night. No doubt many of you have never given much thought to toads before, and while I realize you are much probably more interested in Great Danes, I hope our brief journey with the toads has offered you something of value.

I would be remiss if I let the story end with the toads simply singing the night away. There's a bit more to it than that. Please stay with me for a few more paragraphs.

The Toad's Plight

In case you haven't quite figured it out, Toad Night is the main annual breeding event for Bufo terrestris, the Southern Toad. After hibernating all winter long, when conditions are just right, the toads wake up, crawl out of their burrows, and journey to their breeding ponds – often the very same bodies of water where they themselves were spawned.

Toad Night occurs all over the world – wherever there are toads. With increased human intrusion into rural areas, the toads' annual migration from their winter burrow to their spring breeding territory often forces them to traverse busy highways and roads, resulting in many deaths. According to the BBC, approximately 20 tons (that's 40,000 pounds) of England's "common toads" (Bufo bufo) are killed annually on British roadways. No kidding. And it is unknown how many unfortunate American toads die each year on our own roads. (The poor things "croak" before they have a chance to really croak.)

Toad Tunnel Links

British Toad Study

Amphibian Conservation

Toad Patrols

Saxon Gate Toad Lift

Green Cross Toad Lift

ACO Tunnel Prototype

*Hear Toad Sounds!!!

In 1987, taking a cue from the Swiss who already had one in place, British engineers constructed that country's first "toad tunnel." It was designed to enable a population of toads to bypass a local roadway while migrating to their breeding pond. The toad tunnel accomplished its goal, and its installation was greatly appreciated by a devoted group of weary locals who, over many breeding seasons, had been toting loads of toads across the road in large buckets. Shortly after the tunnel was established, toad volunteer (and champion) Ann Cook was quoted as saying, "Our evenings won't be the same without a bucket of toads to carry."

As might be expected, the British toad tunnel received much press. The positive publicity contributed to the construction of many more tunnels throughout Britain and Europe. Today we can find numerous toad tunnels in Switzerland, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Austria, Canada and the USA. The first American toad tunnel was constructed in California. (Naturally.) Since then, other toad tunnels have been built in Texas, Massachusetts, Oregon and Florida.

(Note: For those of you who think it is sheer lunacy to spend public money on tunnels for toads, please consider this simple fact: An adult Southern Toad will eat 3,000 to 5,000 insects in one season alone. Many will be mosquitoes, one of its preferred foods. In my opinion, you can't have too many toads in your neighborhood.)

More Interesting Toad Facts:

  • Toads are unable to reproduce during the early years of their life. Male toads begin breeding at 2 to 3 years of age; female toads first breed at 3 to 6 years. The toad "gals" are usually much larger than their male counterparts – a full-bodied female can measure 4 inches or more. The life expectancy of an adult Bufo, with some luck, is approximately 5 to 15 years. A few have been known to live more than 30 years in captivity.
  • Toads rely on fresh water for the reproductive part of their life cycle. While mating, female toads release their eggs in shallow water in long gelatinous strings. The strings of ovum, which can measure up to 12 feet, are fertilized by the male partner as they are expelled. One coil of eggs from a Southern Toad can contain 2500-3000 eggs.
  • During Toad Night, masses of fertilized eggs become ensnared on aquatic vegetation and/or debris in shallow water along the shoreline. After a short gestation period of 2-4 days, during which some eggs are lost to aquatic predators, the remaining embryos mature and hatch as tadpoles. Once hatched, the tadpoles stay close to the water's edge, feeding mostly on algae.
  • Predation remains the tadpoles' biggest threat during a 1 to 2 month period while they're slowly evolving into toads. Their predators include fish, certain types of beetles, dragonfly larvae and kingfisher birds. The survivors – now young "toadlets" – will leave the water and migrate to the damp pond margins where they may be further challenged by drought, carnivorous birds such as crows, ravens and grackles, and (at our house) lawn mowers.
Here at Kilmer Pond:
  • Toad Night comes every spring without fail. Occasionally we'll experience a short stretch of freezing weather a week or two after Toad Night. When that happens, the toads gather together for another Toad Night as soon as the weather warms back up. The second Toad Night is never as intense as the first Toad Night, but it gets the job done.
  • Two weeks after Toad Night, the shallow water along the shoreline of Kilmer Pond is teeming with small tadpoles. These I had hoped to photograph for this story, but our "killer swan" would not permit it. He attacked me again and again while I was trying to set up the camera. I retreated.

    Nine o'clock in the evening is the Toad Night's witching hour. Nothing major ever happens before 9 PM. The event lasts all night long. Typically, the toads are still courting and singing well after sunrise. The singing usually lasts until high noon and may resume again at nightfall, leading into a second (lesser) Toad Night. This year was most unusual. The toads sang all night, then all day, and then they launched themselves into a second Toad Night. The second night was every bit as robust as the first.
  • When Toad Night is over, it is really over. Apparently the toads are quite exhausted after one or two nights of revelry. The next night brings absolute and total silence. Not a toad can be heard in or around the pond. In fact, it may be several weeks before we see or hear any toads.
  • During the months following Toad Night, occasionally we can hear the toads singing in larger than normal numbers. We call these our Mini Toad Nights, but they are trivial compared to the real thing.

You've probably wondered how our dogs behave on Toad Night. Over the past 18 years we've owned several Great Danes and one Basset Hound. There's been little reaction, if any. Each year our doggies have dutifully accompanied us to the water's edge to observe the toads. Each year they've sniffed around a little bit and then wandered off looking for more interesting things to do. The loud vibrating song of the Bufo, which literally rattles our eardrums, seems to have little effect on our dogs.

Thus ends the tale of Toad Night, or, as Paul Harvey might say, "Now you know the REST of the story." So, the next time you find yourself driving down a lonely country road on a warm spring night, maybe you'll think about our toads. And if by chance your headlights catch some toads on the road, perhaps you'll stop to give them a helping hand, because now you know where they're going – and why it's important they get there.

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