Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Learning Patience from a Toad

Young toads don’t look quite right. Their heads are to big for their body and the legs haven’t developed much muscle mass. This one is prettier than the one catching flies in this blog, but it is still a western toad. Most of the little toads were dark. Just a few were lighter with these wonderful red lumps.

Sept 5, 2010: Umpqua National Forest
I’ve wandered about for over an hour looking for sprites and such, while Dale, my man of patience, has stayed put in one spot. Maybe that stool he brought down from the car helped glue him to his little world of sedges, pond weeds, and muddy shoreline. He took a good hike earlier and deserves a rest. He can’t find a sedge sprite either, but he has found a tiny toad doing its darndest to become one of the few that succeed in becoming a bigger toad. Each spring thousands and thousands of western toad eggs are laid in these shallow waters. Just one female can deposit up to 12,000 eggs! A couple of summers ago we found a high Cascades lake with thousands of tadpoles clustered in the shallow water. I’m sure I could have scooped up a washtub full of the little dark wiggles with just a sieve. Patches of shallow water along the shoreline were black with them.

At this pond, toads were coming ashore on August first. They still had a chunk of tadpole tail attached but were able to walk and hop about. I avoided the last three feet of ground along the shore because my feet meant certain death for half a dozen toads; and, in some areas, I literally could have clobbered 25 with one step. By August eleventh the toads were spreading out all over the shoreline and the dry meadow nearby. Many were hundreds of yards from the lake. The ground cover is sparse and I could avoid stepping on them. Today their numbers are drastically reduced. I don’t know if thousands have been eaten, starved, wandered off, or are hiding. I do know that it has been literally years since I saw an adult toad, but that is largely because of their nocturnal habits. Adult toads are over four inches long but illusive. To see one again, I think I’ll have to go on a nocturnal toad hunt.

Back to Dale and his toad. I tear myself away from the chickaree I’ve been watching and start learning patience from Dale and his toad. This little guy (the toad, not Dale) is a tad over half an inch long, but his heart is fearless. He has decided humans can be ignored and that catching flies is more important. I wish I knew what kind of flies, but there are over 16,000 species of flies in North America. It takes experts to sort them out. These are funny little tender looking flies with beautiful bright eyes and long, skinny legs. Some have iridescent backs and other have stripes of brown. Some dance on the mud along the shore line. I can’t see wings or legs move, but the fly magically goes forward and backward, to their left side and to their right side. Dale is convinced one is taunting the toad, but maybe the real intention is to attract a lady fly.

The fly faces the toad and does his little dance. Toad tries to inch forward … fly leaves. Another fly (or is it the same one?) lands next to the toad, a little too far to the toad’s right. Toad freezes. Every so patient. He just waits. If he moves the fly will leave; but if he stays put, the fly just might come around to his front. It takes, minutes, but patience is rewarded. The toad gets his fly and we get to see the lunge. I always thought the fly was caught with just the toad’s tongue, but I think this little guy’s tongue is too short. The lunge seems every bit as important. We stay and watch him slowly catch a bellyful of various flies before he disappears into the nearby grasses.


  1. Dear Elva,
    What a marvelous watercolor and an interesting post! Thank you so much.
    Kind regards, Sadami

  2. Toads - I always liked them...test have been made as to what they actually see. Fly sitting still - not so much exciting neurons. Small object moving horizontally - reaction in a set of neurons that is part of a sensoric-motoric loop connected to follow-and-snatch behavior. Object moving vertically - not much of a reaction in that brain area. Automatic fleeing reactions could also be triggered. Too bad I don't remember the original paper/author.

  3. Elva, your toad painting is just beautiful and I loved reading your tale of toads and tadpoles. Oh, and flies, too!

  4. That Toad painting is amazing!! I came here from Teri's blog - and glad I did.

  5. We had the most amazing green faced toad visit recently. And today I saw something so wonderful I wanted to share it with you .... here is a link to the harvest mouse....

  6. Ginger: The harvest mouse photos are fabulous!

    And welcome to my blog, Cynnie and Mim.