For as long as I can remember, I have always featured photos of my pets on my home-made Christmas cards. The majority of the pet photos on these cards have been dogs (in Xmas attire) and last year the card featured my dog and a new cat (no Xmas gear for the cat as I didn’t want to get clawed to death).
For a couple of years, my Xmas cards included a photo of a pet no one asked me about – one of my toads (wearing a Xmas hat that was added to the photo using clip art). I often wondered why no one asked about the toad on the Xmas card. Maybe it was because no one would ever think that I’d have a pet toad or perhaps the card recipients just didn’t notice that cute little amphibian in a red elf hat in the corner of the card.
My interest in toads began when I was a youngster on vacation at the Russian River area in northern California. My cousins, my sisters and I came across what looked like a million “baby” toads on the rocky shores of a small creek and we caught as many as we possibly could. Much to the chagrin of our parents, we brought them back to the cabin with us and unfortunately none survived. I remember waking up the next morning to find a veritable toad massacre in the living room. There were red and green carcasses on our sleeping bags and smashed toads covered almost every single inch of floor space in the cabin. It was not a pretty sight and I felt awful about the needless slaughter for years afterward (even though we certainly didn’t mean to kill them – they were literally always underfoot).
So, when I was on a dog walk several years ago and saw a couple of toadlets (immature toads are actually called “toadlets”), I immediately scooped them up to take a better look. The dog I was walking wasn’t interested at all in my find and after I inspected my catch, I released the little toads back into the “wild.” I briefly thought about keeping them, but I decided that they’d be better off in their natural environment.
However, the next day when I walked the same route (at a gated complex with a lot of man-made ponds), I saw more toads and decided that I would bring a few home. I scooped up about six or so and put them in a plastic bag with some dirt and couldn’t wait to get home and show my husband.
I set up a 10-gallon aquarium with some dirt, a few rocks and a small dish of water. The toadlets were very small, less than half an inch long, but they were very energetic and crawled up the sides of the tank, trying to get out. They obviously weren’t pleased to be incarcerated.
A friend of mine and his daughter went “toading” with me that weekend and we caught about twenty or so. I set the daughter up with an aquarium and she happily brought five toads home with her. I found out from her father that the next day at school the teacher asked each person in her class to talk about their pet(s) and she said she had twenty toads!
I set up my toads in two 10-gallon aquariums (six toads in each) and they had fresh dirt, swimming pools (small dishes with water) and rocks and other items to hide under. I went on the internet to find out all I could about my new pets and even joined a toad group that had a very informational message board (I discovered the breed of toads I had were “California Toads”).
My toads thrived and grew from less than half an inch to healthy adulthood, the largest toad (“the Big Bopper”) being about 4”x4” (named after the real Big Bopper, who was a rock and roll legend before my time ). Here’s a pic of the Bopper (the toad that is) in his favorite swimming pool:
I had a friend build an outdoor toad enclosure and instead of lugging two fish tanks in and out of the house every night and morning, I left the toads in their outdoor “toadarium” during the summer. Unfortunately, I looked in the toadarium one morning to find only three toads inside. I was devastated. Nine toads had escaped out of a small gap in the wire mesh but fortunately I found the Bopper and two other escapees, so I still had six of the original twelve. Their names were: The Bopper, Manny, Moe and Jack (the Pep Boys), Redspots and Gimpy (who had a bad leg but was still very mobile). I’m sure some of the toads were female but they all looked male to me, hence the names.
During the two years that I had my toads, I learned a lot about these precious little amphibians. Here are some facts:
Ten Factoads (or Factoids if you prefer):
1. Toads are not swimmers (they will drown if put them in water that is too deep)
2. Toads like to burrow
3. Toads hibernate in the winter and usually will not eat during that time
4. Toads will not mate unless they have hibernated during the winter
5. Adult toads seldom hop (I found this to be untrue as they hopped to get away from me all the time)
6. Toads can become impacted (aka constipated) as they are prone to picking up dirt and other non-edible items on their sticky tongues which can “jam up” their system
7. Toads shed their skin and will eat it when shedding (freaked me out when I saw this for the first time)
8. Toads need to soak in water every day as they do not drink (unless it’s New Year’s eve). Note: no tap water!
9. Female toads are much larger than male toads
10. Toads can live to be up to 30 years old
Item No. 10 above was the major factor in my decision to release my toads back into the wild. Even though I really enjoyed hand feeding them and freaking people out by showing them the toadarium (and hand feeding the toads live crickets), I knew I could not afford to buy ladybugs, crickets and worms every week for 30 years. I also knew that my toads would be much happier in the free world (and also since I never let them fully hibernate, they might finally get lucky if I liberated them).
Many individuals from the toad message board advised me not to release them as they could contaminate the free toad population. So I decided not to release them where I found them but in another area that didn’t seem to have a toad population. It was a very sad day and I even cried a little.
The next summer, I again found a couple of toads (Bob and Bruno) and I kept them for about six months. I guess I forgot about the work and costs involved (having to clean their tanks every couple of days, getting fresh dirt, buying food for them, etc.) as well as their happiness. I decided to free them also and although I always want to get more toads as pets when I see them during dog walks, I resist the temptation. I usually will pick them up and look at them longingly however.
Yesterday, I moved a large planter in the back yard and found the following:
I took the above photo of the newt (posed on a sheet) and after the photo session, I was about to put my new pet in a fish tank when I remembered the toads. I put little Olivia (Newton John) back under the planter and felt really good about that.