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Raucous Toad Ruckus

July 19, 2010

I was five rows from the stage at an Aerosmith concert once. It was really loud. I always seem get a wing seat on planes. It’s noisy, but not as painful as listening to the mother with baby playing “peekaboo”, honestly, for over an hour straight. I live in a rural woodland hood where the sound of excessive bass radiating from passing cars shakes the fuchsia sepals off my bougainvilleas. It’s a form of temporary sonic terrorism. But a few nights ago I experienced the loudest, most painful sound I’ve ever experienced. It came from hundreds of tiny, love-crazed toads.

When a violent thunderstorm unleashed a vertical wave of rain a few days ago, tiny Oak Toads (Anaxyrus quercicus)migrated en masse to the moat of water that encircled my house. The hopping plague of sirens went unnoticed to me as the diurnal toads quietly inched their way waterside. When night fell, the ruckus began.

As I sat on the couch watching a recorded World Cup match, my wife beckoned me to the front door. “You have to hear this!”

“I can hear it! I can’t here the vuvuzelas anymore!”

She opened the front door and the chorus of “cheep-cheep-cheeps” from the randy toads bellowed an amplified wave throughout the house. It was loud a moment ago. Now it had turned to aural assault.

Oak Toads have a distinct marginal line from head to rump, bumpy skin and paratoid glands behind the eye that emit a poisonous white fluid. Oak Toads are the smallest of the North American toads but I would imagine they have the greatest decibel to size ratio of any animal around. The closer I get to them the more I can feel the vibrations of the tympanum in my ear. It feels like someone beating on a sheet of aluminum with a hammer.

The reason for the raucous behavior is to attract a mate. How hundreds of toads all screaming “me! me! me!” all at once sets you apart from another is beyond me. But it works. The edge of the ditch is lined with toads. They cheap and their throat sacks enlarge like a kid blowing bubble gum. Every so often, one takes the plunge, heads out into the center of the pool and merges with another toad. Females will soon lay strings of 250+ eggs and can lay several dozen strings after mating.

It’s quiet tonight but it won’t be long before the next generation of screamers is drowning out my TV. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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