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.
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.
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.
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 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
- 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.
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.
- 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.