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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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In addition to cicadas and tree crickets, toads also sing at night in the desert. Because it so dry here for most of the year, these toads stay dormant in underground chambers until the summer rains come. When the rains start the toads erupt from the ground, rush to puddles and attempt complete their entire life cycle before the puddles dry out, sometimes in only 7 days. We have several common species of frogs and toads, but one of the most amazing is the Couch's spadefoot toad.

In this video you can see and hear the adult males calling, tadpoles in temporary puddles, and "toadlets" hopping away. Note: If you have young, sensitive children be aware that cannibalism of tadpoles is mentioned, although not shown.

Sounds like sheep baaing? Well, maybe.

In this video a spadefoot toad is digging into soil. Spadefoot toads may stay underground as long as two years if the rains don't come. This video is silent.

Activities:

1. Get to know your local frogs and toads.

First of all, what is the difference between a frog and a toad?

As it turns out, the terms "frog" and "toad" are common names, they are not scientifically-based groups. According to frog taxonomists, all frogs and toads belong to a group called "frogs." Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures "toads" and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures "frogs," there are a number of species that are hard to place into one of those groups, such as the smooth-skinned spadefoot toads shown above. Check Frogs and Toads for more information.

To learn more about frogs, take a field trip to a pond or wetland.

frog

Gather:

  • Boots
  • Pictures of frog and toad life stages
  • Identification guides if available
  • Camera and/or paper and pencil to record what you see

What you may see:

frog eggs

When I see frog eggs, I always think of punctuation. They start out a dark round periods, and then right before they hatch they turn into commas. Always leave eggs alone because handling them may damage their jelly coating.

tadpoles

tadpole

The larvae, commonly called tadpoles, are often easy to spot along the shore. Sometimes you may see a mix of different kinds. In this case the larger light-brown tadpoles are bullfrogs.

If you are very lucky, you may discover some of the tadpoles beginning to grow legs.

Ask everyone to be quiet and stand still in order to see adult frogs. Typically the adults swim away quickly when there are rapid movements nearby.

frog

Can you identify the adults? Are they common species?

Frog fact: Frogs regularly live 4-15 years, and sometimes much longer. Keep this in mind if you decide to raise one.

2. Frog Songs

Visit the same wetlands or pond at night to listen to frogs and toads singing. Ever hear the spring peepers? These tiny frogs can make a tremendous racket early in the spring.

If possible, make recordings of different types of frogs and toads singing. Or listen to recordings, such as at Sing to me baby! ...Ribbit!

Try to mimic the calls yourself. Can you tell the different kinds apart? Before long you should be able to recognize different frogs based on their calls alone.

Older kids might want to try playing recordings of male frogs singing at ponds at night and see if they can attract female frogs.

Think of ways to design an experiment to find out if only the male frogs sing, or whether the females do too.

3. Eat or be eaten

While you are studying frogs and toads, try to figure out what they eat at each stage and what eats them.

The spadefood toads mentioned above eat insects that swarm at the same time the frogs are active. Both ants and termites tend to produce new queens and males in swarms when the summer monsoons start. At times the air will be filled with flying and mating insects. It is a great time for the toads to store up a lot of food to survive the rest of the year underground. Amazing!

Let us know what you find out.

For more information, try these resources:

Insect Lore Frog Life Cycle Stages

Nonfiction Books for Children:

Face to Face with Frogs (Face to Face with Animals)
by Mark Moffett

Mark Moffett is one of my favorite photographers. His work is often seen in National Geographic, which published this book.

From Tadpole to Frog (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1)
by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Holly Keller

Frogs by Gail Gibbons, a prolific and award-winning author

Frog (Watch Me Grow)
by DK Publishing

For the younger set.

Book for Adults:
Frog: A Photographic Portrait
by Thomas Marent and Tom Jackson

The Calls of Frogs and Toads
by Lang Elliott
Book and CD

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