Spring fever

    The trill of the American toad stopped me in my tracks yesterday.

    The sound, a steady high-pitched song that male toads use to attract females during mating season, is usually heard in mid to late April, just as the forest is waking up.

    We’ve all noticed and remarked upon how it’s been an early spring for plants (and people, which has been lovely. Sandals and drinks outside in March- I’ll take it.) Daffodils are up, almost finished in fact. Trees are budding, perennials are popping up through the ground, and the weeds are keeping pace right alongside them.

    So maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to hear the precocious sounds of animal life too. I followed the songs to their source; a little vernal pond close to the Wissahickon Creek. There were several mating pairs of toads there, along with some persistent bachelors trying to nudge their rivals off the backs of the lady toads, and being ignored.

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    If you’re looking at the picture and wondering how they do it, they don’t. The male just clings on to the female until she releases her eggs, and at the same time he releases his sperm. The eggs are fertilized externally.

    The range of the American toad goes much further south than the Philadelphia region, so there’s probably nothing bad for them about a mild winter and early spring. And hopefully the the mosquitos, ants, spiders, and slugs they rely on for food are all on the same wake up schedule, although my preference for those creatures is that they would be less ambitious about rushing to reproduce.

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