Toads, unleashed

    The toads are back. You may have heard the males singing, if you’re near a slow moving stream like the Wissahickon.

    Their song is a high-pitched trill, somewhere between an old-fashioned telephone ring and a pleasant version of squealing brakes. Even one toad can be loud, but hundreds singing at once can almost create a sonic vibration.

    This time of year is fun because it’s easy to watch these slow moving and not very secretive creatures go about their reproductive agenda. The males gather; the females, drawn to their singing, follow the sound down to the water’s edge, and what happens next is like a Roman orgy. Some toads actually drown under the weight of so many others all trying to find one another.

    Once mating is completed the females begin laying long, zigzag chains of eggs in protected shallows. This includes puddles, and people with the tendency to intervene sometimes scoop up the gelatinous egg strings before bike wheels run through them or they dry up. They’re easy to keep in an aquarium until they hatch into tiny black tadpoles, which develop into lilliputian toads the size of a watch battery. Dozens of internet sites explain how to raise them successfully at home.

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    Toads live like monks for the rest of the year. They don’t go back into the water, and they don’t sing. They return to their temperate, solitary ways, eating worms, slugs, ants, and other little creatures. Passion won’t be unleashed until the first warm, rainy days next April, when they will once again break their vows of silence.

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