The Western Toad, or Bufo Boreas in Latin, has its own miraculous annual display. During the last release of rain before Summer’s dryness descends a mighty migration occurs in certain neighbourhoods of the watershed. Thousands of baby toads leave the safe shallow waters of their birth migrating out of the ponds, crossing roads and highways, hopping together in solidarity and with a sense of purpose. Many perish squashed by vehicles unable to avoid all, guiltily plying the temporary toad roads. It’s like a real time video game – how about we call it Squishy Squashy Toad Tag – which has fatal consequences for the unlucky. Most toadlets survive fanning out to repopulate the forests.
Tsolum Sid elaborates on the differences of amphibians and warns his friends about the latest threat to their survival, the brutes of the wetlands, non-native North American bullfrogs. “Those big bad bully-frogs are voracious predators and will eat us and the tree frogs for lunch if we let them!” Sid orates, jumping off the hammock and stretching his arms and legs to look as large and frightening as possible for a young little toad. Farnham flinches and hops backwards forgetting his perch and clumsily tumbles onto an assortment of last year’s leaves and grass covering the dark dirt. He quickly recovers and shakes his feathers from head to tail. Olive jumps up and hops around the ground pretending to be a bullfrog, looking more comical than threatening.
“If you think those frogs in the chorus are loud you should hear the adult bullfrogs bellow” says Sid. Olive begins chasing Farnham around, croaking madly in the lowest tone she can muster. “Kn-n-nock it off” Farnham cries, hopping about blindly. “Hey, it’s no joke” Sid continues seriously. “Humans brought the bullfrogs to Victoria many decades ago and do you know why?” Olive and Farnham shake their heads. “To be farmed for their legs which people eat in fancy restaurants! Can you believe that?” Tsolum Sid has a hard time believing it – after all he is a toad and a close cousin – it could be him on the people’s plates!
“My Grandpa Tommy Toad told me that someone thought bullfrog farming would be a great business for men returning from the horrific war the humans fought overseas” Sid remembers. “It didn’t work out too well because the top predator of small bullfrogs are large bullfrogs! They’re carnivorous cannibals” Sid exclaims. He climbs back into his cozy cocoon and stretches out. It is getting late as the light from the waning moon fades. Sid yawns. Farnham is still in shock. He has heard that chickens are cannibalistic but there are others?
“But how did they get here?” Olive asks, confused. “Humans again” Sid responds. “After the farms failed they set the survivors free in the wild and they mated and ate their way north. Grandpa Tommy also said those crazy humans imported them to sell at garden supply stores to “stock” their man-made backyard ponds. What are we? Isn’t that our job? Local Western toads, Pacific Chorus and Red-legged frogs will populate their private ponds.”
The night is quiet now. Farnham wobbles up to Sid and says “You’ve certainly g-g-given me a lot to dream about. I just hope I don’t have any nightmares!” and he flies to his nest for some rest. Olive curls up under Sid’s bed and says “Goodnight”.
What Sid doesn’t know if that these mean, green giants are not only detrimental to biodiversity and native species of amphibians but are also unaffected carriers of a fairly recently discovered fungus which is killing of many of the world’s frogs. The best thing to do is to destroy the bullfrog invaders when you find them. DON’T move them from pond to pond. DO correctly identify them – they are up to 20 cm long (extra large size), brownish green in colour with grey or yellow bellies (males), have very large round eardrum with skin folds wrapped around them, smooth skin (compared with bumpy toads) and they have deep loud calls. DON’T destroy them if in doubt – you wouldn’t want to harm the nice frogs and toads. DO click a digital photo and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org . DO imprison suspicious characters while you wait for ID results. If they are the real bad guys DON”T let them escape. DO put them in a bucket of cold water for a couple of hours, then into the freezer. DO host or attend a neighbourhood Froggy Fest and encourage guests to catch, compare and consume these dangerous but delicious creatures. The leg meat tastes just like chicken – honest! They are not native and they are no welcome in our wetlands. For more information or to join the Pondwatch program to monitor your local ecosystem contact Frogwatch.
Laura Ann O’Brien