Thornhill reflects on toads

Anaxyrus woodhousii, or Woodhouse’s Toad, seems to have a much larger impact on my life than ever thought it would. This little round amphibian calls much of Kansas home. It adapts well to deserts, floodplains, grasslands, and even urban areas. If you’re feeling a little *ahem* froggy today (ha ha), you can even imitate their call. Just say WEAAAAAA while simultaneously sticking your tongue out of your mouth towards your chin. If you actually tried that, by the way, I want to see pictures.

My earliest recollections of the species go all the way back to the Stone Age, when I was growing up in Buhler. Our house was on a corner lot, so the streetlight was basically in my front yard. All spring and summer, we always had a few resident toads that would hang out under the streetlight waiting for unsuspecting insects to fly into reach. These toads provided a great deal of my early science and entrepreneurial education.

First was habitat study. Under the streetlight, my parents had put in a rock garden with yucca bushes. I quickly learned just how well those toads blended in with the rounded river rocks, and just how far they would jump if startled out of their spot. Of course, diet was a given. They did not seem to have any sort of liking for stink bugs, June bugs, or mosquitoes, but they did keep the moth population under control.

Anatomy was another valid study, even if it was under nonideal dissection circumstances. Inevitably, one of the toads would get run over by a car. The neighborhood boys and I would take turns riding our bikes over the mostly-squished corpse to see what came out in horrified fascination. As the week wore on, we got an opportunity to study forensic decomposition as said toad got drier and flatter.

Some neighborhood kids decided to make some money off of the ample supply of organic bug control. I provided a laundry detergent bucket, and watched as several other kids started catching toads (not me, mind you. This is important later). The idea was to sell them. We didn’t really stop to figure out things like our target market, our mission statement, or any formalities like that. We just figured that people would buy them for a quarter apiece. Needless to say, a herd of kids ringing doorbells at 9 p.m. wasn’t a good strategy either. It soon became a moot point, however, since our merchandise wasn’t thrilled with either the bucket or the idea of being sold. The toads began to vacate the bucket with marked alacrity. Thus ended the retail toad market.

As my life progressed, I continued to have sporadic encounters with other members of the species. Most people are familiar with the split-second lurch our cardiac muscles experience when an unexpected toad makes its presence known. One neighbor even introduced me to a new term for said ninja amphibians: hoppinsuckers. Out here on the farm, I’m usually able to give them a wide berth while appreciating their contributions to bug control. That is, until the little twerps invade my home.

A few days ago, I let my dog out for her usual late night perimeter patrol. She is absolutely convinced that her couch-dwelling self is the only thing that protects us defenseless humans from total annihilation by coyotes. She stood on the front step and barked her fool head nearly off, then turned to come back inside, secure in the knowledge that she had single-handedly scared the varmints away. She trotted inside, head held high and tail waving, just like every night . . .but this time, she brought a friend. My foot brushed something squishy. At first, I thought she had just left me a pile inside (she’s getting a little old, and sometimes forgets what she goes out to do). Groaning inwardly, I turned to get cleaning supplies. And then . . .THE. PILE. MOVED.

Well, actually, hopped. I might possibly deserve a medal for not letting out the scream that billowed up to my mouth. Instead, a strangled “EEP” came out as I frantically looked around for the broom. Remember how the other kids were catching toads way back when? Yeah. I don’t touch toads. My half-baked plan was to somehow sweep the hapless hoppinsucker right back out the door he came in, then go to sleep in peace. Unfortunately, before I could lay hands on the broom, my new houseguest had hopped himself underneath the piano. Great. My friends, at that time of night, there was no way I was going to start moving the piano and other assorted items around it in search of this trespassing amphibian. After a quick online search to be sure that the suspect wasn’t poisonous to cats, I crossed my fingers and went to bed

Turns out that my snake-catching cat also has a way with toads. When I got up in the morning, there was the cat, staring at a pile by the door. This time, hubby was up, and HE touches toads. Darling Hubby saved the day, and took our temporary lodger back outside where it belonged. The cat, of course, was rather peeved that we had removed his entertainment, but I expect he’ll eventually forgive us.

Have a great summer, folks, and beware of unexpected house toads.


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