Warts and all…
The Common Toad (Bufo bufo) can be found across Europe and Asia in a wide variety of habitats including woods, meadows and, of course, gardens.
Toads are much less attached to ponds than their smooth skinned cousin, the Common Frog, spending most of their time in damp places under rocks and logs or in thick grass tussocks.
Feeding mainly at night, the toad has a voracious appetite, consuming almost anything that will fit in its gaping mouth, including worms, beetles and woodlice. Most organic gardeners welcome any toads that take up residence in their greenhouses – natural slug control!.
Early spring is the most significant period of activity in a toads life when adults return to the ponds to mate. This can be a strenuous time for the females who, although much larger than the males at around thirteen centimetres, are sometimes killed by the huge numbers of males jostling to grasp them prior to spawning.
Assuming she survives the suitors’ struggle the successful male toad grabs the female securely (known as amplexus) and the pair will remain this way until the female is read to spawn. Two strings of 1000 – 6000 eggs are laid under water, being immediately fertilised by the male, still locked in his amorous embrace. The pair move about while spawning so the string of eggs becomes entangled in the pond vegetation.
The spawn hatches in about twelve days with the tadpoles, like the Common Frog, being omnivorous feeding on algae, decaying vegetation and dead animals before metamorphosing after some three months. The tadpoles have a big advantage in that their skin contains similar toxins to the adult toads and so are distasteful to fish, enabling them to breed in deeper ponds where fish are more likely to be present. That is not to say the tadpoles have an easy time of it – many fall prey to beetle larvae and dragonfly nymphs before undergoing that magical transformation. Those that survive leave the pond to take up the terrestrial phase of their existence, maturing at around five years of age.
Once they have left the pond the toads are generally much safer – most predators (with the exception of hedgehogs and grass snakes) learning very quickly to avoid toads them because of the distasteful toxins exuded from the warty skin. Life revolves around eating. The toad is an active hunter sometimes venturing a great distance from its daytime refuge. However if a toad finds a suitable location it can become an ambush predator sitting and waiting for prey to come to it. The large orange eyes of the toad pick up the slightest movement of anything within range of the sticky tongue, which is flicked out at great speed to catch the prey.
As the temperature drops in the autumn the toads start to look for a suitable place to hibernate. They might choose a pile of logs at the base of a hedgerow or a cavity under a large stone. You can encourage toads to stay in your garden by placing suitable hibernation structures at various locations around your plot. They then wait out the cold months of the year before starting the whole cycle again in the spring.
The urge to spawn in the spring leads to the greatest peril in an adult toads life – roads! Many thousands of toads are killed on the roads each year as they travel relentlessly to their spawning ponds. Although they prefer large open water ponds creating a large deep pond in your garden could provide a safe spawning site for the toads in your community. In any case your new garden pond will attract a wealth of other wildlife. Why not plan yours now!
Did you know?
Toads can live to the ripe old age of 40 years!