Spring is in the air, but the water’s pretty funky

Yesterday, The Girlfriend and I attended a party back near where we used to live, and afterward I wanted to visit one of my old haunts. The purpose of this was to see if I could find some praying mantis egg cases (‘oothecas’ if you want to be technical or sound pompous,) because I’ve found none in our region, and in this we were quite successful – I have ten in hand now, so we’ll see just how many photos this produces in the real spring. I had plenty last year too, but none of them seemed to have hatched, so I’m hedging my bets.

The haunt that I refer to is Gold Park in Hillsborough, and while there, we found plenty of other activity in the small pond, something that I’ve witnessed before. The weather was fairly warm, getting up to about 17°c, and the American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) had things well in hand, as it were. As we approached the pond, their calls were in distinct evidence; unprepared to do this properly, I nonetheless recorded a short snippet on my smutphone. Bear in mind that this pond borders a dog park and a kid’s play area a little further off, so there’s extraneous background noise; I edited some out and boosted the volume, but it’s not ideal:

Mating calls of American toads Anaxyrus americanus

Of course, I fired off a few frames.

cluster of American toads Anaxyrus americanus in amplexus
Most of the ones that we saw were paired in amplexus, which is the term for the male grasping the female from behind and essentially riding on her back, before and during fertilization – “mating” is perhaps a misleading term, in that they don’t maintain a pairing outside of fertilization, and fertilization doesn’t involve coitus. Instead, the female deposits her eggs and the male expresses sperm in the immediate vicinity, fertilizing the eggs in the open. Generally, it’s still among two individuals, but occasionally there are stacks of three, and ‘mating balls’ have been observed. So yeah, if you’re a toad, asking about your dad isn’t kosher.

submerged American toads Anaxyrus americanus in amplexus
Most times it’s at the surface, but at least before things get too involved, the pair may submerge at signs of danger or if another male gets too obnoxious. Now, during this time, they’re not too spooky overall, and close approaches aren’t difficult – they seem to be preoccupied or something. I’m a little amazed, given these habits, that they’re not consumed buffet-style by any predators in the area, but there are mitigating factors. Toads tend to have mating season a little earlier than the migratory birds have arrived, at least in my experience, and while I’ve seen a few red-shouldered hawks already (whose favorite food is frogs and toads,) this particular pond’s proximity to the dog park is probably a good deterrent for those. Sometimes it’s a confluence of factors that make for a popular, and populated, area.

obnoxious and unlucky American toad Anaxyrus americanus
I included the one above in particular because of our observations. First off, this one, definitely a male, was notably lighter than the others, even with the wide variety of coloration visible, and this may have made him less desirable among the females – it’s a bad trait to stand out when you depend on camouflage. But he wasn’t complacent in his lack of success, and continually tried to get in on the action with every couple that he came across, continually getting kicked away. Toad habits and ‘culture’ are of course much different from ours and we can’t judge by our own standards, but we couldn’t help but see this as obnoxious, and I dubbed him, “Frat Boy.”

Getting closer to the water allowed some details to become more evident.

American toads Anaxyrus americanus in amplexus on huge bed of toad eggs
In places, the clusters of eggs were quite obvious and abundant – that’s all of those little beaded tendrils. It’s pretty clear that, in a few weeks, this pond is going to be brimming with tadpoles – perhaps I’ll return to do a follow-up.

But yeah, if there’s that many eggs, imagine the sperm count. Not a place to go swimming.

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