Toad Ingathering May 17-20
You may recall that a number of weeks ago, a lone male American Toad visited the pond on a fairly humid end to the day. He did not start trilling immediately and in fact the day cooled down somewhat suddenly and no other toads appeared and by morning there was no sign of any toads or their activity. So we have waited until the afternoon of Friday, May 17, 2019 to see once more a lone male toad sitting in the shallow end of the pond. Suddenly about 4 pm a trilling started, but I could see that our little visitor was not the one making the sound. In fact, a couple of other male toads had already ensconced themselves in the pond. Here's a picture of a toad from a few years ago. If you look at his neck, you will see it vibrating to make a sound like a policeman's whistle. Another male frog comes over to see what's up and our singer turns around and stares at him till he swims off, at which our boy chases him away.
Looking around a bit, I started to see that a part of the "EVENT" was already underway. Most of the attendees were males, who tend to be smaller and brownish-green. But as the females began to show themselves, some initial pairing off took place. The females tend to be quite a bit larger than the males, usually a pretty pinkish color and sometimes with more distinct markings. Here are some couples. They can be found clinging to the side of the pond, a larger lily leaf, or even on the bottom of the pond. They have to rise as a pair to the surface to breathe every once in a while.
There are usually a few extra males who lose out on the initial game of musical chairs. One of the "extras" may try to dislodge one of the lucky fellows who is already mating with one of the females. The male who is on the back of the female uses his legs to kick off the interloper with strong blows. Usually that will convince the extra to look elsewhere for love. Here is an unlucky male who is now trying to mate with another male. The other male will not only kick him off but will make a loud clucking or chuckling sound which you never seem to hear in any other context. After this rebuff the mistaken lover swims away as you see in the second picture here.
This is the same time of year that a raccoon is likely to discover the toad ingathering and try to kill as many as possible. Many times I'll wake up the morning after the sorting into pairs and find quantities of both females and males lying dead on the ground around the pond. But THIS year, I raced (well, hobbled) to the window to see how things had gone, and discovered not only no bodies but, in the shallow end, three pairs of toads who had been mating for some time and had already started laying the double-strands of eggs (separated by gel). Eventually there turned out to be SIX pairs of toads laying eggs. At the lower left of the picture you can see the fluffy mess that the egg-gel mass has turned into. I'm sorry, I took this picture from afar so as not to disturb the maternity ward, but hopefully you get the idea. In a few days, we might see the tiniest tadpoles separate themselves from the egg mass. If you know a kid with a pond who might have a desire to raise some tadpoles I think there will be many too many for my eensy pond. Email me.
Many years, Froggy the Green Frog is so exhausted after watching the orgy in the pond that he goes away for months or ever. But this week, he is still here. I wonder if what sometimes drives him away is the appearance and violence perpetrated by the Raccoon. Anyway, he seems to have come through the excitement in fine froggy fettle. I am also extremely happy with the results of the weekend.
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The following is an article based on an overnight vigil in May 2016 to see why so many toads end up dead after their annual ingathering.
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copyright Martha O'Kennon 2019