I was delighted to catch her basking in full sun just seconds before she hid, but this summer has been cool, and because toads are cold-blooded, the sun star’s warmth must have brought welcome relief.

When I peered under the step, there she was dressed in buff and brown, patterned with irregular dark markings. By then I could see only parts of her head and body, her powerful legs, and splayed feet. Crouched under a slab of granite, the toad gazed intently at me with one large golden eye, as I spoke to her in a low voice. ‘Please stay’ and she did, tolerating the few pictures I snapped while lying down beside her, her pale throat pumping furiously.

From my very awkward position on the ground, I noted that this toad was a female, not just because of her size and girth, but because she had that pale yellow throat. This toad was an adult about three and a half inches long, and quite plump, from the side I could see. Overall, the markings were spectacular.

I guessed her age might be close to 10. In the wild, if conditions are favorable, toads can live a long time (most don’t make it through the first year), and I wondered if this was one of the toads that had been living under my porch. Her markings seemed more pronounced than those of others I had befriended, but maybe it was due to the light.

Although I had learned that a toad’s age could be determined by counting the number of annual growth rings in the bones of her phalanges or toes, this was not something this toad would let me do, I knew. Toads are very private citizens, preferring not to be handled.

The bumpy parotoid glands located just behind her head could secrete a toxic substance, designed to discourage would-be predators that no doubt would include me! It’s important to mention that any dog that mouths one will have a negative reaction.


In the evening, toads enjoy hunting mosquitos that are drawn to extra moisture, and one of my toads will often sit in a shallow dish of water when I am sitting on the granite step that leads to the frog and toad garden – an area just outside my door, complete with frog pond that is devoted to protecting toads, raising my wood frogs (indicator species), and providing a summer home for migrating green frogs. Since it’s almost dark, I cannot distinguish markings just size, so I never know who I am sitting with.

Adult toads are normally most active at the edges of the day and at night. If you are fortunate enough to have one, dawn and dusk are the easiest times to see them because they are hunting up to a thousand mosquitos in one day, slurping down slugs and spiders on the side. They also eat snails. Every serious gardener needs to cultivate toads.

I also knew from my experiences watching toads mate in North Pond that females were always larger than the males who climbed on their backs in a trilling frenzy that rarely lasted more than three days in May or early June. Afterward, long double strings of eggs floated on the top of shallow reedy waters, hatching in a short time into minute coal-black tadpoles.

These little characters then congregate at the edges of the pond where they are less able to become a feast for fish or other predators. Depending on weather conditions the surviving amphibians transformed into tiny toads half the size of a fingernail in a few weeks.

At home here, meandering through tall grasses, mosses, and various groundcovers (I don’t cut my grass) I occasionally meet a few toadlets beginning in August. So far this year I have seen none. I used to raise toads in one of my vernal pools until the water table dropped and the one that got the most sun started drying up too soon.

Even this year, until July, the depression (fed by a seep) held almost no water and was covered in green algae. These last 10 years of drought have not been kind to amphibians.


The American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) can live in forested areas, open fields, backyards, wetlands, near lakes, rivers, or streams. Toads breed in the open shallow waters of ponds or lakes, even in ditches (I have only witnessed breeding in lakes or ponds).

This year Hutchinson Pond trilled with mating toads during one sunny day in late May. The number of toads calling at breeding sites varies annually. Some years I have seen at least 50 toads; other years just a few. One female can lay up to 20,000 eggs, but mortality is so high that few manage to become tadpoles or transform into toadlets.

If the weather is too hot, a toad will burrow into the ground using its back feet. Toads repeat the same process to survive winters, burrowing deep into the soft earth, especially in the north.

While living in Abiquiu, NM, I witnessed a giant grandmother toad (western variety, functionally extinct) burrowing into the desert with her back legs during the heat of the day. I couldn’t believe how fast she dug herself in front of a water drip!

Smart toad but then all toads are bright, and they will befriend anyone who takes the time to get to know them. Snakes and raccoons are the toads’ most likely predators. If threatened, a toad will puff her/himself up to look more unpalatable.

Overlapping subspecies will sometimes interbreed, but in Maine, we have only one species. Historically, toads of some kind could be found on every continent, and they have been in their present form for at least 50 million years.


Today all amphibians are in trouble. Overall, as the ‘canaries in the coal mine,’ most are disappearing at alarming rates. Sources vary on percentages, so I won’t include specifics here. If you go to any research site in Maine, you will see that these creatures are still considered ‘common’ and therefore are of no special concern.

Whoever determines these statistics obviously spends little time in the field. I used to see toads and frogs hiding in my flower garden, down by the brook, and in the woods on a regular basis (this does not include seeing them in or around my frog pond).

Wherever I hiked I almost always would stumble on toads or frogs. It is still possible to find these amphibians, but they are no longer ‘common’. This year I have only encountered three toads anywhere, besides the toads under my porch.

An ability to breathe through the skin as well as the lungs indicates that the continued use of pesticides/herbicides, diminishing air quality, water, ground pollution as well as commercial exploitation, and more recently, disease are affecting all amphibians, including toads. Rachel Carson warned us about these changes 60 years ago in Silent Spring.

A human-induced changing climate means that extreme weather changes are becoming the norm here in Maine, just as they have throughout the world. The only positive information I could find is that toads with continental distribution might have a better chance of long-term survival.

Amphibians like the wood frogs I raise that rely on certain habitats for breeding are most at risk. Fluctuating climate changes induce mass mortality, as I witnessed last year with the death of all my wood frog eggs, in all probability due to a brutal freeze.

Because the American Toad can still be found throughout the US, they may have a better chance of managing long-term survival. The bottom line is that we do not know. These days I spend as much time living in the present moment as possible.

Whenever the weather permits, I seek out the toads that live in my garden and visit with them as I sit on the stone beside the dish. I love the way toads hunt, thrusting out their tongues to capture the unwary mosquito! Last night, one caught a cricket.

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