Monday, August 17, 2009

Common Toad Bufo bufo

I am an amateur naturalist trying to learn something about everything alive in my garden.

Weeding out my shrubbery recently, I was pleased and surprised to come across a second example of a UK amphibian to add to the first (a common frog) I wrote about last year: specifically a rather large toad. Sadly, by the time I had raced to my house and returned with my camera my toad had disappeared. My luck was in however as a few minutes spent hunting through the undergrowth turned up a second: the little fellow in photo 1.

Britain has only two species of toad. One, the Natterjack (Epidalea calamita), is a rare and protected species. I have never knowingly seen one myself. Our second is the Common Toad. There are various ways to tell the two apart but the most useful from the point of view of photo 1 is the paratoid gland which I've marked with a 'p' in photo 1 (click to enlarge). The fact that this is rather regular and pronounced indicates that mine is a Common Toad (Bufo bufo).

What I've learnt about the Common Toad has been mostly through reading The British Amphibians and Reptiles (Malcolm Smith, Collins New Naturalist). With regard to diet, the book contains the amusing quote (attributed to Newman 1869) "[the food of the toad] seems to consist of all living things that are susceptible to being swallowed". Bees, ants, whole snails, moths and young snakes have all been recorded in the diet of the Common. In the case of some larger South American and African toad species even full grown live mice are taken.

It seems possible the first, larger toad I saw and the second smaller one were a female and male respectively. Male Common toads average 60-65mm. Females are typically 10-15mm longer.

Common toads can live a surprisingly long time. Forty years has been recorded in captivity. They hibernate on land in burrows from around mid-October until mid-March when they emerge to spawn. Spawning continues until around the end of April. As is well known, toad spawn forms long 'necklaces' in the water as opposed to the more amorphous blobs formed by frogspawn.

Finally, a word about the predators of the Common Toad. Crows, magpies, rats and snakes are all known to eat toads (some of the former tending to eat the innards, leaving behind the unpleasant tasting skin). Prize for most gruesome predator has to go to the greenbottle fly Lucilia bufonivora however. Having located a victim an adult bufonivora lays up to 100 eggs on its unfortunate victim's back or thighs. Some time later the eggs hatch and the emergent maggots immediately make their way up the toad's back and into its eyes and from there into the nasal cavity. Within a few days the toad is dead. The maggots devour the corpse before dropping off to pupate in the soil and emerge a week or so later as adults ready to repeat the cycle. For those with a strong stomach you can see a photo of an infected toad here.

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