Slowly, but surely, spring is coming, and some think it has already arrived. After 3 or 4 months of hibernation, the temperature, the humidity, and the light awaken the “ugly monster” from its winter sleep. The common toad (Bufo bufo) has long been feared and has been associated with witchcraft and evil.
But did you know that this inhabitant of the land, the forest, the garden, the marsh, the ditch, the pond, the mountain and the plains, the city and the countryside, is in fact a useful protector of your salads ? Do you think I’m crazy ??? I certainly am not… This “disgusting, putrid creature which everyone abhors” plays a major role in the destruction and regulation of all sorts of invertebrae, such as earthworms, slugs, caterpillars, beetles, ants, and any other pests you can imagine.
This is the biggest toad in France : a female can measure up to 12 cms. (or even 18 cms. in the south of Europe). The male grows up to 8 or 9 cms. and has strong forearms, at the end of which are three internal fingers. In the reproduction period only, these have rough black pads called callosities. A male can also be identified by his croak- when seized he lets out a few croaks, while the female will remain silent.
A Hazardous 35 year lifespan !
A toad can live past 35 years, on condition that it doesn’t eat a poisoned slug. It is thus important to use natural means for eliminating gasteropodes (like a saucer filled with beer) if they do a lot of damage to your vegetables.
Its natural predators are serpents, hedghogs (who coat their spikes with toad venim), and certain birds, like the crow. Many die while crossing roads during the migration period in spring. When the weather conditions become favourable, thousands of toads move back to their birthplace where they then lay their eggs. They are thus obliged to cross busy roads. Hundreds of toads get crushed under the wheels of cars, which often can’t avoid them, as they are so numerous. Remember, roads are not only rendered slippery by the rain – the presence of toads increases this danger. Luckily, many “tunnels” have been built under roads which are particularly frequented by migrating toads.
The reproduction of toads
Let’s leave the road and get back to the toad. The males are so desperate for a female that up to ten of them may climb onto a female, running the risk of crushing her under the weight ! Last spring, I saw females disembowelled by the force of the claws of a male clinging onto her as other males tried to mount her.
A female toad is capable of laying around 8,000 eggs, which she attaches to aquatic plants in two jelly-like strings. The tadpoles are small (around 3 cms. long) and black and are very sociable, hanging around in groups on the surface of the water where the temperature is the warmest. Most die from attacks from predators ( larvae of aquatic insects, newts, fish ) or from unfavourable conditions (pollution, drought). Only 1% of them will produce an adult capable of reproducing. The fight for survival is particulary selective for toads and frogs in general.
The expression “a rain of toads” , as described in old writings, comes from the fact that thousands of young toads emerge after a heavy rainfall. These young toads which usually metamorhize at the end of June, take refuge in the cracks in the ground or under stones and vegetable debris. They then pass their existence on dry ground (except when they lay their eggs), coming out in the twilight and at night. The toad is a homebird, and seems to have a good knowledge of its hunting ground. It generally comes back to the same refuge year in, year out.
Handling this animal involves no risk for humans. All batrachians in France are strictly protected, as are their biotopes. It is forbidden to remove them from their habitat.