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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.

Groundhog's Day is coming up soon. It's a perfect time to learn more about this fascinating animal.

Groundhogs have a number of common names. They are also called woodchucks or whistle pigs. Their scientific name is Marmota monax. They belong to the taxonomic group marmots. Groundhogs are rodents, so they have large front teeth or incisors. They also have sharp claws for digging their big burrows.

(Public Domain Illustration)

It is not unusual to see groundhogs sitting next to their burrows or eating plants along highways. Perhaps that's why I've seen them often, but don't have a single photograph.

For older children:

Susan and Joe Sam have spent a great deal of time studying, photographing, and videoing families of woodchucks that live near their home. See their new website, Woodchuck Wonderland™. (Note:  The website does discuss the entire life cycle of the woodchuck, including mating.) They have made many interesting discoveries regarding the family behavior of woodchucks. I highly recommend the photo galleries.

For preschoolers:

Groundhog Day Play By Roberta Gibson

It is February 2, Groundhog Day. Groundhog is looking for his shadow. People say that if he sees his shadow there will be six more months of winter.

Where is Groundhog?

He’s in his burrow.
Can he see his shadow?
No, it’s dark in there.
Where is Groundhog?
Can he see his shadow?
No, he’s behind the big rock.
Where is Groundhog?
He’s behind that tree.
Can he see his shadow?
No, the tree trunk is blocking the light.
Where is Groundhog now?
Can he see his shadow?
No, he’s hiding behind Deer.
Where is Groundhog?
He’s standing out in the sun.
Can he see his shadow?
Yes, he can!
Back to bed Groundhog. You can sleep for six more weeks.

Related:

Earlier Groundhog's Day Science post with shadow activities

Want to learn more about your local birds? One of our favorite bird-related activities, the Great Backyard Bird Count, is coming up next month:  February 17-20, 2017.

This bird count is a prime example of a child-friendly citizen science project. Basically all you need to do is count the birds you see over 15 minutes and then report them on the website. Although it is called "backyard," you can count anywhere birds are found, including parks, preserves, or fields.

There is plenty of information and instructions about getting started at the website.

Related:

Looking for more children's books about birds? Check out Taking Flight: a List of Children’s Books About Bird Migration at Science Books for Kids or...

Taking-Flight-childrens-books-about-bird-migration-300x270

...the list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers

You may also want to try:

Are you planning to participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count? What kinds of birds do you see in your backyard? Let us know!