Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Time for Toads

The summer rainy season has started up again in North Florida. It's hot and muggy outside and the slightest exertion leaves one coated in a sheen of sweat. It takes a little more planning to stay outside for long periods at this time of year (hat, water, sunscreen, bug spray), but I love it anyway. Everything is green and lush and full of life. The birds are noisy and busy feeding their soon to be fledglings and the air is electric with insect life. We've been deprived of a proper rainy season several times in the past few years and it is a relief when things finally return to normal. A dry, parched Florida is a very sad thing indeed. Although the rains are starting up again, our water table is still low and counties south of here are still critically dry. But here, the afternoon rains are back.

For those with backyard ponds, swimming pools, marshes, lakes or creeks nearby, rainy afternoons mean that the Southern Toads will be coming. We have a small pond, and know this to be true. We built our backyard pond about 6 years ago. When I say "we", I actually mean my husband. I balked at first, believing that it would take a lot of work and would look tacky. Boy was I wrong! What a great addition to our home! It is so peaceful and beautiful to watch. And it's been fairly low maintenance, except for keeping the water levels up and cleaning the filters and the occasional equipment hitch. Otherwise, we've had relatively few problems. The koi we bought small because they were cheaper that way, have grown into huge and colorful fish. The water plants just keep reproducing and growing thicker. This beautiful water feature attracts species of frog and toad, as well as squirrels and birds. In the last few weeks I've seen Black and White, Black Throated Blue, and Common Yellowthroat warblers, and an American Redstart furtively making their way through the bushes to the water for a fresh drink. Dragonflies perch on the Horsetail and zip away for a quick bite. Every night some sort of long skinny orb web spiders weave their webs over the pond surface. Fishing spiders live in the skimmer, and somewhere in the mud there are a few Crayfish that I put in for fun. It's like a mini jungle paradise.

Yesterday afternoon we had a batch of thunderstorms. The sky grew dark and the wind picked up. The temperature dropped and thunder boomed while lightning lit up the sky. And then the rain began. It rained most of the afternoon until bedtime. As the storm let up, I could hear the first trills of Toad Songs coming from the corners of the yard. I went outside to take out the trash and nearly stepped on a toad hopping from the vegetable patch to the pond. The sound grew more intense as more toads came and joined in, and it continued all night and can still be heard, a day later.

At 6am I went out to the pond and counted about 15 toads perched on the edge, swimming and calling in the dark. By 9am many of them had paired up and were mating. Lone males called, hoping to entice females with their lilting arias, like tiny aquatic and operatic tenors. The males sing, and the larger females are drawn irresistibly by their love songs. The sound can be deafening. I counted 3-4 males calling, each trying to drown out the other. The sound is loud enough to hear it inside the house, a fact that our younger daughter made sure we were aware of when she was still living with us. I don't know how the neighbors feel about the sound, but other than filling in the pond, there is not much we can or would do about it. Toads gotta do what toads gotta do. As far as I know there are no statutes regarding nuisance toad noise violations. And besides, we live in a neighborhood called "the Duckpond" with a much larger pond that runs through the center, and some evenings the chorus of Southern Toads, Bull Frogs, Leopard Frogs, Numerous types of Tree Frogs, and other loud critters there is truly deafening. It's the nature of our neighborhood, and one of the reasons that we love living here.

Male Toad Beginning to Sing
The Pond at Night. See How Many Toads You can Count. I See 4, Maybe 5.

Pairing Up Begins
After a while, the females will start laying long strands of eggs and the male on her back will externally fertilize them with his sperm.  You can tell toad eggs from frog eggs because frogs lay their eggs in masses, while toad eggs look like strings of tiny black pearls. Each pair will lay hundreds, if not thousands of eggs in the water. Then they will leave and the eggs will transform. In 4-5 days the eggs will hatch and tiny tadpoles will emerge. The tadpoles are voracious algae and plant eaters and they set to work eating and growing as as much as they can, as fast as they can. Tadpoles that hatch in puddles must work against the clock to grow legs faster than the puddle can dry up. Our toads don't seem to know that they can take their sweet time in our pond with perpetual water, so they hurry anyway. It's a nice arrangement for us having batch after batch of tadpoles. The tadpoles perform a much appreciated pond cleaning. In turn, we give them a place to grow. Good deal all around.
Toad Pair with Eggs

Two Toad Pairs, Lots of Eggs!
This is the 2nd wave of Southern Toads to come to the pond this spring. I watched the last batch of tadpoles zipping around the bottom of the pond just last week. But the weather warmed up, they grew their legs, and just a few days ago I started to see tiny toadlings, the size of a peanut, hopping into the leaf litter. Just in time for the next wave.

Here's a short video clip with some toad song audio. Sit back and enjoy hearing the high pitched rock star ballades that drive lady toads mad.

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