The common toad is no longer common: its population is in decline and it is listed as a Priority Species in the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. So, we are returning for a closer look at the toad we found and photographed in Village Green on Wednesday, the first toad-sighting for some years.
Common toads live in woodlands, rough grassland or wetlands. They hide during the day in hollows that they dig in sheltered places beneath stones or among the roots of plants or, as in this case, in abandoned field vole tunnels.
The toad we found in Village Green on Wednesday.
They emerge at night to hunt a wide range of invertebrates: woodlice, slugs, beetles and earthworms are favourites; our Village Green toad might even have eaten the baby field voles from the nest at the end of the tunnel it is now occupying
To deter other night-time hunters, that might consider it prey, the common toad secretes an irritant, foul-tasting substance from glands in its warty skin. Unfortunately, grass snakes, of which there are plenty living in the park, seem to be unaffected by these toxins and the heron photographed by DKG on several occasions last year in Village Green was probably also hunting toads.
Grass snake in Sheep Field and heron hunting in Village Green
Common toads can live ten years in the wild but have been known to live for fifty in captivity. They are sedentary creatures that will occupy the same burrow for years if it provides adequate shelter and prey but they have a strong migratory instinct that will take them back to ancestral breeding ponds each spring. Busy roads often block these migration paths and it is estimated that 20 tons of unlucky toads are killed on the UK’s roads every year
The toad breeding season rarely lasts more than a week; when it is over the toads make the sometimes perilous journey back to their burrows, leaving long strings of toadspawn floating in the pond. Toad tadpoles make the same toxins in their skin as the adults do; this protects them from any fish in their environment but not from the predatory nymphs of dragonfly, diving beetles and waterboatmen, which avoid the toxins by piercing a tadpole’s skin and sucking out its juices.
Mating toads and toad spawn
A garden with a sound ecological distribution of ants, slugs and creepy crawlies will often harbour a toad in a quiet and unnoticed shady corner. If you are lucky enough to have a resident toad in your garden, look after it; save your slugs for it, protect it from your neighbour’s cat, forego insecticides.
Conservation status: protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.