by Greg Mayer
I’ve mentioned in previous posts how I periodically engage in turtle or frog and toad “rescues”, taking animals that had fallen into human made traps, such as window wells and stairwells, and releasing them, sometimes after feeding them for a while in captivity to fatten them up prior to release. A couple of days ago I decided to stop and check a stairwell on my campus, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where I’ve previously found toads and a turtle, and sure enough I found a young American toad (Bufo americanus), about 30 mm in snout-vent length, hunkered down in some leaf litter at the bottom of the stairs. I took the little fellow’s picture with a lady bug, the type of beetle made famous by Jerry’s academic grandfather Theodosius Dobzhansky.
The beetle of course was not trapped, and could just fly away when it wanted to. I checked the same stairwell again the next day. It had rained in the general area the previous night, which might encourage toads to be moving about– and thus fall down the stairs– but I wasn’t sure if it had rained on campus. There were two more American toads. These were smaller, about 18 mm snout-vent length. (A penny is about 19 mm in diameter.) These two were hopping about— they had just fallen in, and were in good shape. The toad from the previous day, although it looked good, may have been stuck in the stairwell for some days during a generally dry period, and was not active, but rather hiding in the leaf litter.
Here’s the stairwell, on the northern side of the Communication Arts building, in which the toads (and last year a painted turtle) got trapped. This year’s larger toad was under the leaves on the far right. Once they go down a step, they cannot climb back up, and they get ratcheted to the bottom.
I released these toads immediately after photographing them in Greenquist Woods, shown in the photo below, approximately under the large basswood leaves visible at the right. You can see how the ground slopes down to the left– just behind that screen of bushes is Greenquist Pond, which is where the toads breed, and the painted turtles live.
Here’s Greenquist Pond looking north, with Greenquist Woods to the north and east, a lawn area (not well seen) behind bushes to the west, with a sidewalk and lawn edging to the south (from where the photo was taken).
The smaller toads were recent transformlets from tadpoles this season. The 30 mm toad was a bit puzzling. Either it’s a transformlet from earlier this year which has grown quite a bit, or it’s a one year old from last year’s brood. It seems too small, based on my experience of toad growth in captivity, to be a year old, yet it seems odd to have in just one breeding season such a wide size range in the season’s transformlets (18 to 30 mm). I’ve not quite worked out the breeding phenology of the toads– perhaps I should figure this out.
After releasing the 30 mm toad in the woods the first day, I stopped at the Pond with the colleague who accompanied me, and there we found many small frogs that jumped in the water. At the size of those we saw, you need to get a good look at them to tell bull frogs (Rana catesbeiana) from Green frogs (Rana clamitans)– both species occur in the Pond. They all were diving quickly in the water, and we had no binoculars to get a close look at those that surfaced in the water, but one large individual sat still and let me approach. It was a large adult male green frog: a green frog, because the dorsolateral ridge extends from the eye over the ear and along the side toward the groin (in bull frogs, the ridge curls round the ear); and a male, because the ear is larger in diameter than the eye.