Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Toad's Tale

It was four in the morning and I just could not fall back to sleep. I decided to let the dogs out since they were each hopping up and down on one leg. I turned on the patio lights and tried to push the door open, but there was a large toad staring through the glass. I stuck my hand out and tried to shoo her away, but she wouldn’t budge. My dogs, Buddy and Holly, pushed their way past. I thought they were going to harm the toad so I started to grab them, but they simply sniffed at the little creature then went on their way. I followed the dogs through the yard, thinking that the toad would be gone by the time we returned, but she was still at the door. I gently urged her out of the way and slid the door open. Again, the dogs sniffed, but walked past, uninterested. (For the past three years, since the time they were pups, I’ve been trying to convince this obsessively carnivorous brother and sister pair that they are vegetarians. I suspect that they remain unconvinced, but the quick sniffs at the toad have led me to believe they are at least considering a change in diet.) I was relieved that the dogs were uninterested, but not just for the toad. A toad’s skin is toxic and can make some animals very sick.

With the dogs inside, I was able to sneak back out through the garage door. I squatted down to speak with the toad. I explained to her that I could not let her inside, even if the dogs did give her the sniff of approval. She raised herself on her front legs and arched her back. Her back looked rough and hard, like pebbles at the bottom of a stream bed. Toads often have leathery skin for better water retention, and their skin has a brown tint. This toad looks like a dried leaf. She has a white stripe down her back and when she lies flat, the stripe looks like the leaf stem. Of course, as she’s growing, she’ll shed her skin every couple of weeks.

I know it’s a “she” because her throat is white and the males have dark throats. She may not survive more than a year as the life span of toads is fairly low, but I try hard to maintain a healthy amphibian habitat with two ponds and plenty of bugs! The University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity website states that some toads have lived as long as ten years in the wild, and that there was a captive toad that lived to the age of 36!

I sat down on the cement and stared back at her in the dark. The owl called loudly from a nearby tree and the flashlight caught the red eyes of a rabbit near the back fence, but the toad didn’t budge. I grew sleepier and sleepier watching her and finally walked back inside and returned to my bed. Before I left, I flipped on the outside light to attract more toad kibbles.

I have read that toads are attracted to sound, but to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t any male toads calling from my den. The television and lights were all off. I think, perhaps, this toad simply wants to chat, which is fine with me, or perhaps she has other motives. Toads appear in the folklore of many diverse cultures representing life, death, money, or luck. I’m planning to win the lottery next week, so I’m sure this toad has only the best of intentions.

I think I’ve seen this toad before, and on more than one occasion. When I first moved here last winter, I immediately started planting my herb garden. I was digging in the side yard and when I lifted the shovel, there was a toad on the tip. At first I thought she was injured, but my neighbor assured me I had simply scared the poop out of her! I gently replaced her in the ground, covered her back up, and checked on her later. When I moved the sand aside, she popped out and hopped away. I am certain she was fine.

A few weeks later, I was digging in the back yard when I noticed a tiny, brown nose sticking out of the ground. Could this be the same toad, I wondered? I ran to the other garden to check. Of course, the toad wasn’t there. They must bury themselves to keep warm or cool, as the case may be. At any rate, I continued to spot the toad in various places, always very close to my home.

And, as you’ll recall, the night before the long strings of toad eggs appeared in my pond, there was a toad at my front door…

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