Samantha Wilson Dill of Danville holds a toadlet in Harkey Valley, Arkansas.
This past weekend we were in rural Yell County near an old horse pond. I saw a rustle in the grass and looked down to see a baby toad no bigger than the size of my fingertip making its way through the weeds. Once I saw one I began to notice them everywhere. The blades of grass must have seemed to them as big as a redwood.
As a child that pond was filled with millions of tadpoles, the edges of the water literally covered in them. Decades later it clearly still serves as a toad breeding ground. Just in the tiny space near the house on that one afternoon, I counted upwards of 15 toadlets, as they’re called at this age (I promise I didn’t make that name up. Biologists really call them toadlets). Toads often return to their birthplaces to breed, so chances are these toads were distant relatives of those tadpoles I’d seen as a young child. Thankfully for these baby toads, their pond was still there.
As rural areas give way to housing developments, few developers or city planners think and/or choose to leave small ponds and instead cover them over as they pave roads and level out ground for new buildings. If you see a toad making its way across a busy street and wonder why in the world he/she has chosen that route, it’s most likely because, much like us, toads like to return to their birthplaces to start a family, so to speak.
It’s easy to just write off frogs as tiny and unimportant. But they play an instrumental role in our ecosystem. They keep pest populations at bay, for example, and without them we’d be overrun with bugs. Whether or not we choose to recognize it, we’re all in this ecosystem together, and we need toads (and countless other animals who call this place home) to keep nature’s balance in order. I’m thankful to know that pond is still there, and will be for decades to come. If you’ve got a pond where you live, you can ensure that toads can return to their home place year after year.
There are lots of things the everyday person can do to help ensure we share our space with wildlife, and much of it is as easy as changing the way we think about our animal neighbors. You can fill your garden with native plants that provide suitable habitat for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. You can leave small ponds rather than covering them over and leave patches of wild growing flowers and trees, thus carving out some of our human spaces for those other creatures we so desperately need.
Some people see this way of thinking as romantic or idealistic. I like to think of it as practical. We can’t wait until the toads are gone before we start thinking about the need to respect their homes. Yet even after the toad populations decline people find creative ways to support the toads and keep them from disappearing. For example, there’s a group near Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Center, who host an event they call “Toad Detour,” where volunteers help toads cross busy highways to get to their breeding grounds. We still have plenty of these creatures around here, but as the towns expand and the rural areas give way to subdivisions it will take some thoughtful decision-making to keep it this way.
There’s a great book we featured in the column last year that names specific ways to maintain wildlife with native plants entitled Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas W. Tallamy. Have you been seeing toads in your yards? Do you have a toad breeding ground where you live? I’d love to hear about it!
Last year’s series of columns on native plant gardening based on Tallamy’s research:
“Bringing Nature Home,” Part 1
Bringing Nature Home,” Part 2, Butterfly Gardening
Toad Detour at The Schuylkill Center
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with theCourier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.