Toads are an indicator species

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arlier this season, as we worked on prepping and planting, we were curious about all the small holes we saw in the ground around the vegetable garden.  

Then it occurred to me one day when I saw several toads about that these were toad holes!  

And, now it seems, that everywhere I step in the yard, vegetable garden and perennial beds there is a toad under foot.  They manage to jump out of harm’s way (from a rapidly approaching foot or spade) just in the nick of time.  

When I notice healthy populations of a good insect, bug or amphibian I like to think that they are flourishing because of the ecological balance of the farm.  Toads are an indicator species suggesting in their abundance that the environment is healthy; in their absence that it is not.  They live both on land and in the water and are sensitive to their surroundings because their amphibious skin absorbs pollutants and chemicals easily.  

We use conventional and organic products on a limited basis.  

We don’t fertilize the lawn or utilize tilling equipment anymore so, it seems that the reduced disturbance to the soil and the environment around the house and in the garden has paid off and allowed our toad population to flourish.  

Toads do some great things out in the garden.  They have an appetite for insects including flies, mosquitoes, gnats, snails, slugs, crickets, beetles, cutworms and earthworms (which I would rather they go easy on).  An American toad can consume over 80 flies in one minute, hundreds of cutworms in a summer and even more mosquitoes. 

They don’t see well, only fast movements like that of a fly; they prefer to stay hidden in the soil, grass or mulch until twilight and if your cat eats one it will probably be sick for a day salivating excessively…but they sort of deserve it for eating a toad!  

I think one of our cats actually did so this spring because she recovered after a day of woozy behavior.

There is a farm pond on the property, which probably helps maintain my toad population, as well.  

Toads, since they are amphibious, must head back to the water in order to mate.  Their young must spend their first few weeks in the water as eggs through the tadpole stage until they grow legs and hop on up to the house and vegetable garden. 

They will return to the same place for mating year after year.  It has been noted that toads will travel up to three miles to return to their old stomping grounds, so to speak.  Sometimes the male toad will hop on the back of the females for a free ride and perhaps a little foreplay.  

Old habits are hard to break, toads will even return to old mating ponds after they have dried up. That would be disappointing to find out at the last minute.

I remember years ago back in the vegetable garden we had a toad that was quite recognizable. 

Daddy had run over him with the lawn mower by accident and his back was cut.  It healed but left a scar.  

We saw that toad for at least three seasons after back in the garden.

So, respect your toads and teach those who still view toads as creeping, wicked things otherwise. 

Let’s help them shake the reputation that they hang out with witches all the time and cause warts.  It’s not true. 

They should be associated with the good gardener, perhaps perched on the shoulder like a parrot accompanying a most respected pirate. 

(Jeneen Wiche is an avid gardener from Shelbyville. She can be reached at JHWiche@gmail.com or at www.SwallowRailFarm.com)



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