Toads are often given a bum rap. For starters, they are not considered as pretty as their trim and colourful froggy cousins. Wicked tales have been spread for years, warning that touching a toad’s bumpy warts can cause people to develop warts themselves. These stories are all propaganda, probably spread by frogs. In reality, toads are a gardener’s best friend. In fact, we think they are toadally awesome!
Toads are easy to distinguish from frogs. They are plump with a more blunted nose and shorter legs. They walk and hop slowly and deliberately, trying not to draw attention to themselves. Compared to frogs, a toad’s skin is thicker, drier and soft, allowing them to live farther from water sources. The bumpy looking warts on a toad’s body are not warts at all. In fact, the bumps combined with his brown or grey colour serve as camouflage for the little guy, helping him blend in with dirt and dry leaves. The larger bumps are paratoid glands which contain a poisonous chemical to protect the toad from predators. These glands work well on cats and dogs, but their main predators are snakes, and most snakes are immune.
Toads and all amphibians are great bioindicators as they absorb water, oxygen and chemicals from the environment around them. This makes them highly susceptible to environmental toxins, and sadly they have been significantly affected by habitat destruction and environmental pollution. Therefore, if you want to attract them to your garden don’t use chemicals or you will kill these natural predators. If you have a lot of frogs and toads in your yard or garden, be happy, you have a healthy environment.
While toads won’t cause you to get warts, you can do serious damage by handling these little critters. Hand cream, perfume or chemicals on your skin will be absorbed by the toad’s skin and can be deadly, so for their safety wash your hands before handling them.
Bug eating machines
Toads should be welcomed into any garden as they earn their keep in spades. These carnivorous amphibians have a voracious appetite for insects, invertebrates, and anything that is small and moving. Toads hunt at night with their keen visual prowess. They are fierce predators, and if it fits in their mouth, they will eat it. One toad can munch down nearly 100 insects per night, that’s approximately 10,000 bugs over three months! A healthy toad population is one of the best natural pest controls you can have in your yard and garden.
Toads are creatures of habit and tend to return to a favourite spot every evening to feed. The most intelligent of the amphibians, toads can even be taught to come when they are called to take food from you. Since they only eat moving prey place a bug on the end of a twig and wave it in front of them. They can even be enticed to sit on your hand and enjoy a gentle rubbing if you can gain their trust.
Like all amphibians, toads require water to lay their eggs and for their tadpoles to grow. They prefer shallow bodies of water without fish. They lay their eggs in May and hatch in late June to early July. Toadlets are what you call a baby toad. If you don’t have any bodies of water in your garden, you can bury containers in the ground for them to sit in. Remember to keep them filled with fresh water. Your toads will thank you, as amphibians absorb water through their skin rather than drinking it.
A garden’s thick vegetation is filled with insects to eat, shade from the sun and cover to hide from predators; provide a home and water, and it becomes an ideal location for a toad to live. Toad houses, upside down pots, home-made small rock caves, and logs will entice toads to stay in your garden as they like to hide during the day. Homes should be placed in a quiet area with lots of shade.
Toads are territorial loners by nature. Therefore if you want to attract several to your garden, you will need to set up several homes and water stations to attract more. During the winter they will hibernate nearby, below the frost line. Don’t worry though, toads are incredibly loyal and will offer you years of service as they prefer to return to their same summer hunting territory. Lifespan is hard to estimate in the wild; however, in captivity, some have lived for thirty years.
Since children are naturally interested in toads and frogs, you will want to teach them about these intriguing creatures and their importance in the garden and our environment. Get them to help build houses and care for watering holes to keep these helpful critters happy and safe.
Finally, another beautiful thing about having toads, and frogs, is being able to fall asleep to their melodic chorus in the evening.