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While You Were Sleeping–They Weren't

As the sun sinks low on the horizon and the commotion of a busy day finally winds down, we get ready for the next phase of our daily activity–sleep. Humans aren’t alone in this nighttime ritual, many other members of the animal kingdom follow this diurnal pattern of daytime activity and nighttime sleep. Many do, but not all.

One exception to this is the American Toad (Bufo americanus). This is the homely little fellow you see hopping around in your garden, or glaring at you should you dare to move the object he was hiding under. Though occasionally active during daylight hours, nighttime is when Mr. Toad really shines. This is when mating, egg laying, and hunting occur.

Although toads are mostly land-based, they have their beginnings in fresh water ponds or pools. There, strands of toad eggs hatch into tadpoles, which in turn become water-bound toadlets (yes, toadlets) before making the final transition to land. While toads are on the menu for a number of predators, they aren’t completely defenseless. All toads secrete a toxic substance through their skin that can at worst, bring about death to the predator, and at best, taste really, really bad. American Toad is on the milder side of the toxic spectrum, but it can still cause old Fido to get sick, should he consume one.

Despite all the homeliness, warts, and secretions, connected with American Toad, there are many positive attributes as well. First, American Toad is a prodigious insect eater and plays a part in keeping mosquito populations under control. Another quality is its gentle disposition, which is why we don’t get zapped by their toxins when handling them, and is also why they can make good pets. Finally, my favorite aspect of ugly little Mr. Toad is his beautiful voice. The nighttime trilling of American Toad can rival any daytime songbird. It has a soothing nature to it that is a perfect lullaby for a Summer’s night.

So as we turn off the lights, and turn down our bed, we recognize that the day is just beginning for a number of our co-inhabitants. We don’t always see or hear them, but we can be sure that they’re dutifully carrying out their assignments–doing the dirty jobs, so we don’t have to. Which is just as well, considering I’m not very good at catching mosquitoes.

P.S. The next time someone calls you a toad, perhaps they’re complementing your singing ability.