A road alive with toads

March 25th 2019

A later than normal finish to the Field Club’s indoor meeting on 21 February 2019, coupled with the damp, and unseasonally warm weather that night, meant the B869 was alive with toads on the move at around 10.30pm.

These amphibians migrate in their thousands at this time of year to traditional breeding sites and that often means crossing roads. Sadly, many are killed so if you are driving late evening and you see small bright ‘lumps’ on the road ahead please just slow down and, as far as possible, simply drive around these little animals. 

The Common Toad, Bufo Bufo, is not large with the males reaching around 8cm in length but females can reach 13cm. They weigh from 10-100gms and a typical lifespan is 40 years.

The first two photos shown here were taken that night with the only illumination available, car headlights! The lights did make it easy to see the typical identification features of the Common Toad, namely the numerous ‘warty’ like lumps over the skin and the distinctive lump behind each eye, which are known as parotoid glands.

Out of interest I went back, in daylight, a few days later to see if I could find them in the nearby loch. Success!

It was mainly single toads I found, almost all males. The males are on a hormone high at this time of year and, when the underwater camera housing was pointed at them they went all macho. The photo of the single male was typical of the pose they adopted before swimming towards the camera – possibly their own reflection being the target.

I only found one ‘pair’ of toads in amplexus – when a male clasps a female to fertilise her eggs as they are released. The female toad is generally noticeably larger than the male but the two in our photo look very similar in size.

It is not uncommon for a male to clasp another male, hormones again! The clasped male in such circumstances utters a specific release call which is supposed to cause the other male to release his grip. This is designed to prevent males wasting time when there is no chance of successful fertilisation taking place.

This pair were constantly being harassed by a second male. The first male regularly kicked out at the second if he got too close! Fascinating to see.

Toad spawn is much more difficult to find as it is often in deeper water and accordingly is still on my list of photos to get! It is, however, completely different in appearance to frog spawn. Toad spawn is in long jelly-like strings which contain a double row of eggs while frog spawn is laid in large irregular clumps in much shallower water. 

Assynt only has three species of amphibian: Palmate Newt, Lissotriton helveticus; Common Frog, Rana temporaria and of course Common Toad.

A short tick list!

David Haines

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