At about this time every year my Nearest and Dearest starts to get twitchy. She keeps opening the door. Her finely tuned nostrils begin to quiver. Then one day she proclaims: ‘It’s time! I can smell it in the air”. What smell? I ask. Something about the air changes, apparently.
Sometime in March or early April all over Northern England (and well beyond) when the weather turns mild and damp, thousands of toads finally wake from their winter torpor, stretch, yawn (well, I would), and feel the urge.
Many local toads hibernate in dry stone walls, from which they emerge like proverbial toads-in-the-hole. They seem to hang around a bit, like little camouflaged Buddhas, waking up and getting their bearings, before setting off on what can be quite a long trek (up to 2 0r 3 miles) to their ancestral breeding ponds. Every year I’m aghast at how they manage to navigate the terrain.
The route to our nearest pond involves going down a lane, then climbing a steep hill through an intervening wood. Toads will persist in going to the same pond even when it has dried up, or when a new road blocks the way, and often return to the same site after breeding. Sadly many choose to migrate along or across roads, where large numbers are killed. Over the past ten years or so my Other Half has researched migration patterns in the valley, and teams of dedicated volunteers now patrol about ten routes. On one of these almost 1,000 toads share road space with buses and pub traffic! According to Frog Life some 62,985 toads were rescued from the U.K’s roads last year.
Male toads are much smaller and more numerous than females, and like to hitch a ride on a female’s back. Males engage in protracted wrestling matches for the privilege. The best part of this annual jamboree, for me, is seeing toads reach water. There’s a palpable sense of joy as they transform from lumbering crawling land critters into fast graceful effortless swimmers. And, of course, they’re here to mate. Large numbers of males often form squirming clusters on and around the females, some of whom, sadly, drown in the process.
When you next meet a toad, bear in mind that he or she could live for up to 40 years, given the chance.
If you’re in the U.K and want to get involved in helping these remarkable little folk you can find your nearest Toad rescue site by contacting Froglife via:
Source: ‘War Games and Sex Games in Britain’s Toads’, Gail Vines, New Scientist 15/7/82 ( online ).
Toads eat: insects, slugs, worms, and occasionally young amphibians (including toads!), and are predated by hedgehogs, foxes, otters, rats, herons, gulls, and crows.
The Common Toad Bufo Bufo is found across Europe, eastwards to Japan, in North Africa, and across northern and temperate Asia.
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