The common toad

David Chapman

Writer and photographer, David Chapman, on the mating habits of toads



The cold water of our garden pond is bubbling with life as amphibians from the surrounding countryside converge on this oasis of opportunity. In the dead of night, to avoid the desiccating rays of the sun, toads throw caution to the wind by crossing open ground to reach the pond in which they were born. These creatures were amongst the first to evolve features that enabled them to live most of their life on dry land yet the single most important part of their life cycle - reproduction - still depends upon them finding water.

En route to the pond if a male finds a female he will hitch a ride on her back; by the time she reaches the pond she might have attracted the attention of a large entourage. Should a male get it wrong and try to attach to another male a gentle croak is usually enough to put him off but many males might attach to the same female. The result of this is a sprawling mass of bodies in which the unfortunate female is stuck in the middle.

It is fascinating to watch this activity and the best time to have a look is at night or early morning, particularly if it is mild. The outcome of this struggle is that the strongest male will win the right to fertilise the female’s eggs and pass on his genes to the next generation. While the female lays eggs, the male on her back spreads sperm over them. Toad spawn is laid in a long double helix chain of around 7,000 eggs and is wrapped around the vegetation in the pond.

Toads are easily distinguished from the superficially similar frogs, their warty skin and dull brown appearance are visual signs but their tendency to walk rather than hop is usually obvious if the toad is on land. The easiest way to determine the extent to which you have frogs and toads in your garden pond during March is to examine the types of spawn; frog spawn is always laid in large clumps.

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