Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Fowler's Toad in a clearing along the Little Miami River...

Sunday evening while I was walking along the Little Miami River trail, I decided to climb down to the river where there's a clearing with a sandy and rocky beach. It's a great place to watch the Chimney Swifts as they swoop low over the water snatching insects from the air. As the sun sets, more and more of the little birds grab their last meal of the day before returning to the huge chimney at the Peter's Cartridge Factory where they make their home. The rocky beach is large, and as I walked to one side, a Fowler's Toad moved right by my foot. I slowly crept away from him (I had my long lens) and crouched down low so I could get his photo...

A Fowler's Toad (Bufo fowleri) surprised me while I was walking along a sandy and rocky beach on the Little Miami River.

I soon found out there were three Fowler's Toads hiding out in the sand and rocks. One was large, one medium, and one small. The smallest toad was young, and the white stripe that went down his back was barely visible, but other than that, all three had distinct markings. Fowler's Toads and American Toads (Bufo americanus) look a lot alike, but if you examine the "warts" in the largest dark spots on their backs you can tell them apart. Fowler's Toads usually have three or four warts per spot, while American Toads usually have only one or two...

This toad had four "warts" in each of his larger dorsal spots, so I knew he was a Fowler's Toad (Bufo fowleri).

Another way to tell the two toads apart is to look at their bellies. Fowler's Toads have mostly white bellies with a dark spot in the center...

I laid down on the rocks so I could get a look at this fellow's belly. Sure enough, it was mostly white with a central pectoral spot. Again, confirmation that he was a Fowler's Toad. American Toads have a lot of dark spots on their bellies.

...another way to distinguish a Fowler's Toad from an American Toad is to check the warts on their hind legs. On a Fowler's Toad, the warts on the tibia are usually just a little larger than those on the thigh and foot. On an American Toad, the tibial warts are a lot larger (source: "Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana," Sherman Minton, Jr., pg 112)...

...the tibial warts are just a little larger than those on the thigh and foot. Another clue points to a Fowler's Toad!

A Fowler's Toad blends in very well among rocks and sand along the Little Miami River. Camouflage was a great defense. When I looked away, I almost lost him. The white stripe down his back was very noticeable, and the green and gray stripes on his legs were too, but the same marks helped him blend in and disappear when I looked away. 

This Fowler's Toad is literally catching the last sun ray of the day. It lit his face for a few minutes before it slid out of sight. Fowler's Toads are mostly crepuscular (meaning they are most active at twilight), so he was just getting ready to start his day! 

About those warts...
The warts on a toad aren't warts at all. They are tiny glands that secrete a liquid toxin that burns the lining in the mouths of predators that try to eat them! The large bumps behind the toad's eyes are called parotoid glands, and they can secrete a lot of the toxin at once, causing the predator to drop the toads quickly. The toxin is strong enough to kill a dog that bites into them, but the toxin can't harm humans if it's secreted on the hands (source: "Amphibians of Ohio Field Guide" Division of Wildlife, pg 28 and Fast Facts).

The parotoid gland is located behind the eyes of the toad and contains toxins the toad uses in defense against predators. If you pick up a toad and it secretes the liquid, it won't really hurt you (and you won't get warts), but it will sting if you get it in your eyes or other mucous membranes, so be careful, and wash your hands after handling toads to avoid accidentally getting the toxin in your eyes.

Last year when I photographed an Eastern Hognose Snake going through all his antics (click here for that post), I remember reading that hognose snakes (whose favorite food is toads) are immune to toads' toxins.

p.s. A reader wrote me about an encounter he had with a toad, and it's a good warning. While sleeping a toad landed on his chest. Startled, he knocked it off. He then rubbed his eyes and started to go back to sleep. Suddenly it felt like his eyes were on fire, and they started watering like crazy! The toxin really can burn your eyes, so always wash your hands after handling a toad... (Thanks for letting us know, Robert!)

17 comments:

Roy said...

Hmmmmmm... I'll have to look closer at the toads I run across to see what kind they are. We often find them in the garden center at work.

Great shots, as usual!

forgetmenot said...

What an interesting post--nice to find out a little more about toads. Your photos are amazing, as always. Mickie :)

Lois Evensen said...

Wonderful. You must be extremely quiet and have a gentle way about you to get so may pictures without your subjects hopping (or in other cases flying) off! Nice. :)

TexWisGirl said...

i think toads are the cutest things! and my dogs have had to learn the hard way not to pick them up!

Carol Mattingly said...

I love it when you post educational stuff. It is so cool. I now know more about toads than I did before. I also like your subject matter as it's not the norm and that makes it more interesting to read. Love the photos too Kelly. Love those closeups. Carol

Montanagirl said...

Well now, that was an interesting post! I don't know much about Toads, but I know more now! Thanks, Kel.

Janice K said...

Tremendous pictures! Wow!

Mary Ann Gieszelmann said...

I have never before heard, and seen, so many details about toads. So interesting! Thanks, Kelly.

Elaine said...

Lovely toad photos and facts! I don't think I'll be called upon to identify one any time soon though as we don't have any toads here, the only amphibian the little Wood Frog.

Chris said...

Wow quite cool message Kelly and nice to know now what are the differences between these two toad! Excellent pictures too. Did you actually get the pictures thinking that you would explain us the differences ;-) ?

Banjo52 said...

You've almost made me more interested than repulsed by toads. But only almost.

We refer to flatterers as "toadies," but good old Froggie "went a courtin'." I wonder how so many of us have become OK with frogs but are still turned off by toads. Maybe it's that toxin? Is there ANY truth to the legend of catching warts from toads?

Kat Griffin said...

Oh My Oh MY what great photos you got of this bumpy wumpy guy ! Love looking at the eyes.
-KAT-

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone. I hope I get to see an American Toad soon. I'd love to compare them. Banjo...you can't catch warts from a toad. The toad's "warts" are poison glands that secrete a toxin that burns a predator's mouth. If you get the toxin in your eyes, it will sting badly, so it's always a good idea to wash your hands after handling a toad... chris...I took the photos at all the angles so I could later go back and study him. I didn't have the post planned out...

Sandy Sandy said...

Very interesting posts Kelly! We have a lot of toads here (in the pine barrens of NJ). They come in all colors. And I think our wild turkeys eat them. Is it possible they are also immune to the poison? Or maybe they just eat the itty bitty ones who don't have a strong defense yet? I will start paying more attention to them. Thanks for your in-depth posts and drawings. I hope you at least got a tan while you were out there in that 96 degree heat!

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

I enjoyed both your postings on toads and frogs. The photos of the Fowler's Toad were great and as always the information you provided was really helpful. Hopefully I can use it when trying to identify some of the toads at the cabin.

Regards
Guy

Tammie Lee said...

such beautiful creatures
love your photographs of them
i remember seeing large frogs around a warm pond in Hawaii, they seemed like meditating Buddha's to me.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I've done a few hi fire ceramic tiles of frogs. They'll be going into a desert community center come July.