One day in August while mowing the grass I saw grasshoppers and crickets scampering every which way to get out of the lawnmower's path. I would slow down and watch until they disappeared, and to my surprise, I saw a toad also hopping away. This time I stopped the mower, picked up the toad and carried it to an area that had been mowed.
I then remembered my mother warning us kids that if we touched a toad, we would get warts on our hands. Of course, we didn't listen and continued to pick up toads.
Once in awhile, a toad would be quickly dropped after it had urinated on the holder's hand. I now know that the liquid, which a toad sometimes expels, is only water that the toad holds in reserve in case of a drought or dry spell.
Toads have nothing to do with human warts. The so-called wart glands are the two large glands behind the eyes of the toad. These glands do give off a slightly poisonous substance, which the toad uses as a defense against predators; however, the poison is not strong enough to injure humans but could sting if contact to the eye was made.
Frogs and toads are classified as amphibians. The word amphibian comes from two Greek words: amphi meaning of two kinds and bios meaning life. This refers to the fact that toads (and other amphibians) can live both on land and in the water.
Toads are cold-blooded (technically called ectothermic animals), meaning that these animals have to move to either warmer or cooler places to change their body temperatures to a comfortable level. A toad also breaths through its skin while on land and absorbs oxygen through its skin while underwater.
Although frogs have smooth skin, there are frogs with rough skin. While some toads have either bumpy or warty skin, there are toads with smooth skin.
Since frogs need to keep their skin moist, they are more aquatic than toads, which have skin that tends to be drier.
Here are some differences between frogs and toads:
Toads are ground dwellers, while some frogs live in trees;
Frogs tend to be shades of green and brown, while toads have earth tones;
Frogs have long legs for leaping, while toads have short, stalky legs used for hopping; and
Frogs tend to ambush their prey by leaping from a distance, while toads tend to crawl until within striking distance of their prey.
Both frogs and toads have long sticky tongues. The frog's tongue attached to the back of its mouth, while a toad's tongue is attached at the front of its mouth. This is why toads are able to stick their tongues out farther than frogs.
Although both frogs and toads hibernate, their habitat is different. Frogs usually hibernate in the mud at the bottom of a pond, while toads hibernate in either leaf litter or soft soil, below the frost line.
After emerging from hibernation in the spring, both frogs and toads head for water. The male toads will sing a loud, high trill that continues for about 30 seconds. This singing is to attract females to come to the males.
Mating takes place in the water. After the male climbs on the female's back, she begins to lay eggs in a long slender string, which can exceed 60 feet in length and contain up to 15,000 eggs.
Frogs will lay their eggs in large clumps.
The male toad fertilizes the eggs as they emerge from the female. Depending on the water temperature, the eggs will hatch in three to 12 days. The young tadpoles (often called toadpoles) are black and easily distinguished from frog tadpoles.
After the tadpoles reach about 1/2-inch in length, they begin a metamorphosis. At first, they begin to absorb their tails and develop legs, a process that can take up to two months. At the end of this period, the young toads are ready to leave the water.
A young toad sheds its skin every few weeks, while an adult toad will only shed its skin four times a year. The toads will eat their cast-off skins.
In Pennsylvania, we have three species of toads: the Eastern American toad, Fowler's toad and the Eastern spadefoot toad, with the Eastern American toad being the largest of the three.
Have you ever envisioned a toad, with its short, stocky legs, as a sumo wrestler? Well, I have.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences, the latest being ''Every Day Was Game Day.'' Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.