When I was a boy we kept the porch light on during the night. This light attracted night insects, which in turn attracted a small army of toads to feast upon the insects that circled and fell onto the concrete carport. The light also brought marvelously large beetles and moths, too.
Each night I watched these toads catch insects with their lightning fast tongues. We used to catch the toads, because they were interesting creatures. I was probably about five years old when I first saw a tiny toad barely a half inch long. I caught it and not knowing the life cycle of a toad, I carried the little toad over to a big fat toad, thinking it was obviously the parent.
“Here’s your baby,” I said, tossing the little toad in front of the larger one.
In a second’s time, the little toad got wrapped by the larger toad’s tongue and was swallowed out of instinct. The larger toad didn’t have time to notice its prey was another toad, it didn’t care, and I was too young to realize that amphibians didn’t nurture their young. It would be years later before I discovered the tadpole phase. I was horrified that the little toad had become food. Of course, no amount of persuasion could ever get the larger toad to undo what had occurred. From then on, I kept the smaller toads away from the larger ones.
Observation is one of the best tools for learning. And what the light attracted at night were insects that often hid during the daylight. I saw my first Polyphemus male moth resting upon the side of the house one morning. I marveled at its coloring and how large it was compared to the butterflies I saw during the day. Since the moth was resting on the wall, I gently touched it, which disturbed it and caused it to loft into the air and lazily fly in circles until it rose higher and then the moth flew up into a tree where I couldn’t find it again.
The creatures attracted to the old porch light captivated my interest in what thrived during the night, but slowly over the years, I’ve seen fewer toads. The last time I found a large number of toads was in 2005 when I was hunting for moths at street lights in Alabama. With my wife and kids, we drove into an old church parking lot where a bright light brightened the asphalt. We found dozens of toads, and my kids spent some time catching them. We even caught a couple and took them home to release near our porch, hoping to see them populate near our house.
Finding toads today seems even rarer. From what I’ve read and researched, their numbers have drastically decreased since 2000. Poisons and other elements have been the culprits, as they are sensitive to their environment. I know I’ve not seen any at our home in Marietta, Ohio, but we have come upon several on hikes near Vienna, West Virginia. Before fall settles in, I will search for them. Their absence today makes me long for the days when they were more common. They are unique creatures and fun to watch.
Do you see toads in your area? If so, is the population large or small. Is it rare for you to see them? Post a comment and please let me know.