Toad rescue

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.

American Toad with ladybug in stairwell, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin,16 August 2016.

American Toad with ladybug in stairwell, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin, 16 August 2016.

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.

American Toads from stairwell, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin,17 August 2016.

American Toads from stairwell, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin, 17 August 2016.

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.


Stairwell at UW-Parkside, NE corner of Comm Arts extension, 16 August, 2016.

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.

Greenquist Woods, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin,16 August 2016.

Greenquist Woods, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin, 16 August 2016.

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).

Greenquist Pond, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin,16 August 2016.

Greenquist Pond, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin, 16 August 2016.

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.

Large male Green Frog in Greenquist Pond, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin,16 August 2016.

Large male Green Frog in Greenquist Pond, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Somers, Wisconsin, 16 August 2016.


  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Baby toads are so cute. I see them all over my lawn though this year, with the dry weather, I’ve seen none.

  2. Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Well done!

    Just this year we finally figured out that the low-pitched clunking frog call we’ve always heard on our pond is green frogs not bull frogs.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Encounters with toads and frogs are always a welcome addition to any day. It also feels good to rescue some.
    I regularly flush out a toad or two while mowing the lawn, and thank Ceiling Cat they are not run over before I see them!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      The last time I encountered a large toad, it was in my car port in the window sill of my basement. It seemed to have found a nice cool spot but of course I kept looking at it, taking its picture and cooing about it.

      When I came back out an hour later, the toad had moved. I imagined it grumbling off all annoyed at what that awful human had done to it. I thought, “where would I go, if I were a grumbling toad.” & sure enough it was where I imagined I’d go – in the garden near the car port. I found it again & cooed over it. I bet the toad really hated that day.

  4. Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    In a similar vein: I live only a few miles from where I grew up (though I spent many years away in various parts of the US and the world). (I live near St. Paul, Minnesota, USA)

    When I was young, I never saw a lizard. And believe me (or should I say “buh-LEEV me!”) I was looking for them.

    Now we have Prairie Skinks (Plestiodon septentrionalis). We first saw them in our yard about 10 years ago. Now we have multiple families of them (it seems) with lots of small ones every year and they swarm on our block retaining walls. Very fun to see.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Cute little buggers. I’m glad you rescued them!

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Living by a lake we have lots of frogs and toads around. My thoughts on the stairwell where the toads accumulate is – there may be an outside light or light through the window from inside. That would attract bugs that would then attract the toads.

    I have a farm light, as they are called on an outside building that goes on and off automatically on a sensor. Toads hang around the sliding doors and go in and out to eat the bugs that pile up due to the light. One follows the other. Lights on at night attract the bugs, who attract the bug eaters like spiders and toads.

    • Paul S
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      I pull a toad, mouse or chipmunk out of the pool skimmer a few times a week. Usually the toads and chipmunks are wet and dizzy, the mice don’t always fare so well.

    • Paul S
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Apologies, that was meant as an independent comment not a reply to yours.

    • Posted August 18, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      There aren’t any lights by the stairwell. It’s just very close to the pond from which the toads emerge, and the wave of toadlets washes up against anything that close to the pond. There is a wall of the building to the right of the stairwell, and this may act as a drift fence, directing the movement of any toadlets hitting the building to the left or right; and heading left leads to the stairwell.😦


      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps you could lobby your campus maintenance department to install toad ladders (simple concrete ramps) along the walls of the stairwell so toads have a way to get out on their own.

        Or do it yourself: just bevel one end of a 2×4 and lay it on the steps behind that handrail to form a ramp.

        • Posted August 19, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          I’m so glad you posted this, as that’s exactly what I was about to suggest. The mini-ramp would not interfere with human foot traffic either.

  7. Christopher
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I’ve raised toads and tree frogs from eggs and/or tadpoles for fun and (educational) profit a few times. They are quite voracious little bug munchers! I’d love to have a little backyard pond to attract them to breed, if I ever get my own house like a real adult. The males’ twitterpated trills are one of my favorite sounds that announce the changing of the season. I occasionally find one hiding in the flower bed or under the back porch light but it’s nothing like the house I used to live near that had a big backyard water garden. I’d walk my dogs by them at night just to hear and see half a dozen or so randy males sitting on the sidewalk, broadcasting to the lassies their everlasting love, which is more beautiful than the finest Las Vegas crooner! Each one was a veritable amphibious Frank Sinatra!

    and on a side note, I sincerely hope every parent who reads this site shares the Frog and Toad stories of Arnold Lobel with their kids.

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    There is a great cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes that imparts some wisdom about picking up toads. In it, Calvin finds the toad and wants to pick it up. Hobbes tells him not to. Why? “Because they drink water all day, hoping someone will pick them up”.

    Anyone who has picked up a toad knows what I’m getting at.

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