Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The dark speck to the left of the penny is a toad.
Soon after we created our first pond in the back yard toads began to appear in the spring and inhabit the pond. The males would sing to attract females and those who were compatible would mate and lay eggs in the pond. Then they would go back to their regular jobs. It was a delight to watch the eggs become tadpoles and the tadpoles grow, develop legs, and then, one rainy day, hop off into the rest of the yard.
Then we had three years when the toads would lay eggs, the tadpoles would develop, but, before they were around long enough to grow legs they would disappear. And not out into the yard - they just couldn't be found in the pond anymore. No little bodies either. This was a mystery. The first year we did see grackles around the pond frequently. They would go down to the edge of the pond and then come back up. Was it grackles? The next year we put a hardware cloth covering over part of the pond so that grackles couldn't reach everywhere. The toads disappeared anyway. Then we thought perhaps the chlorine in the water was killing them. So we started using only water from the rain barrel. The toads still disappeared. Until this year.
So what is new this year? No frogs. A friend brought us some frogs four years ago and we had a good population of frogs for two years but it dwindled to four frogs last year (the pond seems not to be quite deep enough for them to overwinter) but there was only one frog by the end of the summer. That frog did not survive the winter. Thus our theory is that the frogs were eating the toad tadpoles and now that there are no frogs we have little toads again.
They really are as small as the one in the photograph. They began leaving the ponds (we actually have two now) during the recent rains. We also noted an influx of birds - catbirds, cowbirds and grackles - near the ponds probably just waiting to gobble them up. But some of them make it. When they jump they jump about five times their body length and when I am in the garden weeding I only see them if they jump. Otherwise they look like a small piece of mulch. I saw 10 or 12 yesterday.
It still amazes me that these creatures develop in water eating vegetation and then hop out of the pond to breathe air and eat bugs. There have to be some really small bugs for them to eat.
What does this have to do with vegetable gardening? Slug control. Toads supposedly eat slugs and snails. We have lots of those. I have one older toad who spends the day time between two boards in the garden. I have been dropping snails down next to him hoping that he will eat them. The next day the snails are gone, but I don't know whether they have crawled away or been eaten. Next time I will watch to see which it is.