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Toads are fascinating animals that are too often ignored. The new picture book, The Hidden Life of a Toad* by biologist and photographer Doug Wechsler, brings attention to these neglected creatures.

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The main text concentrates on toad development and life cycle, complete with photographs of toads mating. Back matter is filled with supplemental information, including a glossary, toad facts, suggestions for helping toads, and details about how the author captured the photographs.

For my full review, see Nonfiction Monday blog.

Related:

Is it a Frog or Toad?

The terms "frog" and "toad" are not scientifically-based, but are common names. According to frog scientists, all frogs and toads belong to the Order Anura and are called "frogs." Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures "toads" and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures "frogs," in reality some species are hard to separate into one or the other group.

This brown, bumpy animal is a toad.

Toad External Anatomy

Have you ever taken a close look at a toad? You may discover some interesting things.

(Illustration based on public domain photo from Visual Hunt)

Starting with the head, prominent features are the bulging eyes. Because they are nocturnal, toads have well-developed night vision. A cool fact is that frogs and toads use their eyes to push food down their throat when swallowing. If you aren't put off by seeing frogs eating bugs, there's a video of frogs swallowing from David Attenborough.

Adult toads have lungs and breathe through opening called nares.

Fun fact:  Toads don't drink water through their mouths, but absorb water through their skin by sitting in it.

Beneath the mouth, male toads have a flexible membrane called a vocal sac. The sac helps amplify the mating calls.

The circular tympanum has a dual function, serving to pass sound vibrations into the ear and also as a protective cover.

Large bumps on the back behind the head, the parotoid glands of toads produce toxic secretions. This is why you should keep pets away from toads and wash your hands after touching them.

A toad has four toes on their forelimbs (front legs) and five toes on the back. Unlike frogs, toads lack webbing between their toes. Both frog and toads are known for their ability to jump with their hind legs.

A .pdf worksheet (with blanks) to download:  toad external anatomy worksheet

Toad Life Cycle

Toads also lay their eggs in water and the eggs hatch into tadpoles.

The dark-colored dots are the frog embryos. They are protected by a gooey jelly-like substance.

The embryos grow into free-swimming tadpoles. They feed and grow, eventually developing legs. Once the tadpoles grow lungs they can move onto land and they are called "toadlets." During that time, their tail disappears.

Activity: Life Cycle Poster

Gather:

  • Pictures of frog and toad life stages from books or the internet
  • Art supplies such as markers, crayons, colored pencils, and/or paint
  • Large sheets of paper

Encourage the children to plan and decorate a poster featuring the stages of a frog or toad life cycle. Don't forget the toadlet stage.

Younger children might benefit from exploring life stage models.

Insect Lore Frog Life Cycle Stages

Where Adult Toads Live

Toads feed on insects and other small creepy crawlies. During the day they rest in moist, shady places. Growing some dense shrubby plants will provide them with cover.

Activity:  Make a Toad House

Instructions for making toad houses are all over the internet. Here are directions for a simple version.

Gather:

  • Clay flower pot at least six inches in diameter
  • Two potato-sized stones
  • Optional:  Acrylic paints and paint brushes

If you desire, have the children decorate the flower pot with acrylic paint. Acrylic markers work, too. Precautions:  Prior to painting, protect the work surface with a washable or disposable covering.

Once the paint is dry, find a moist, shady location outdoors. Overturn the pot and use the two stones to prop up one side. Leave enough room between so a toad can climb under. Make sure the toad house is stable, so it won't slip off the stones and trap the toad inside. Burying it slightly on the back side or covering the back side with a small amount of soil may help stabilize it.

Providing a small tray of water nearby will help keep the area moist. Keep curious pets away and check regularly.

Interested in learning more? See our growing list of children's books about frogs and toads at Science Books for Kids.

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It's the season to look back at the past year and contemplate goals for the upcoming year.

With that in mind, it would be helpful to find out how to improve Growing with Science to make it most useful for you. We would appreciate it if you would take a moment to give us a bit of feedback by answering the following two poll questions. You may select more than one answer for each question.



Thank you!

If you have any other suggestions for topics, features or activities you would like to see in the upcoming year, please leave a comment. You never know where it might lead!

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A question came in about growing apricots from pits, and because it would be a fun project to do with children, let's learn more. (The question is on the Seed of the Week:  Apricots post.)

First of all, can you grow an apricot tree from a pit or seed? The answer is yes, it is possible.

Another issue is whether the fruit will be any good. When you grow seeds from plants that have not had controlled pollination, or where you don't know much about the source (such as a fruit you bought at the store), you are taking a chance. You will not be able to predict what the fruit quality will be until your tree is big enough to produce fruit. The good news is that peaches, nectarines and apricots show less variability in fruit quality than some other fruit trees do.

What you will need:

  • reasonably fresh apricot pits
  • hammer, vise or nut cracker to open the pit
  • plastic close-top bag
  • paper towels
  • water source

Later you will need potting soil and a pot.

To grow a plant more quickly, you will need to get the almond-like seed out of the pit (the hard outer covering) without crushing it. If you are good with a hammer, you can set the pit on its side and with a single stroke the pit should break open. If you are not used to using a hammer, try a nut cracker or vise instead. Using pits that are clean and dry is easiest. As a last resort, you can germinate a seed in the pit, it will simply take longer.

Once you have the seeds out, wrap them in a clean, moist paper towel. The best way to prepare the paper towel is to wet it thoroughly and then wring it out until it is like a moist sponge. Try to keep everything as clean as possible, so you don't get a lot of mold growing. Place the paper towel with the seeds in it in a plastic bag and set them in a window.

Check regularly for changes. Water as needed to keep moist. Change the paper towels if things start to look moldy. Once the roots start to emerge, transfer the seeds to a pot full of potting soil and water regularly. After a few months you can replant outside, depending on the planting season in your climate. Contact your local fruit tree growers organizations or Cooperative Extension for growing tips in your area.

Stratification or not?

Some people recommend giving apricot seeds a period of cold temperatures (less than 40°F) for over 60 days prior to germination. Subjecting seeds to cold is called stratification. There seems to be some disagreement  about whether apricots really require cold to germinate or not. It is possible that the fruit you buy has been held at cold enough temperatures already. To hedge your bets, save a few seeds, wrap them in moist paper towels as described above and store them in a fridge. If the ones in the bags don't germinate within a few weeks to a month or so, try again with the ones you have chilled after 60 days. Sometimes it just comes down to luck with getting the conditions right.

The person in this video does not mention chilling and yet she seems to have been successful. She does suck the air out of the bag, perhaps to keep down mold?

Aren't those plants inspiring?

If you grow some apricots, peaches or nectarines from seeds, we'd love to hear what works for you.