On the warmer nights of late, count yourself lucky if you can hear the magical, mating song of the Western Toad. What a sound! The Western Toad (Bufo boreas) is a common amphibian for our area, but its population has been declining because of the accumulated impact of unintelligent human development, widespread use of synthetic fertilizers and other types of chemical pollution and environmental degradation. A big concern is development that's not environmentally conscious, the result of which destroys wetlands and isolates toad populations from one another. And then there's the growing danger of temperature changes due to global warming.
If you don't use chemicals in your garden and pond, you might have the good fortune to accommodate Western Toads. Not surprisingly, they enjoy hanging out where there's water or moist soil, although when they aren't interested in sex, they will wander far from standing or running water. They usually like to spend the daytime hours in the dark, underground, or under logs or rocks or patio decks. They are much more active during the daytime in higher elevations where it's not so hot during the day. They either dig their own burrows or use those of small rodents, hibernating during the cold, freezing months of winter.
Great for garden pest protection, after the tadpole stage, the Western Toad dines mainly on insects, including misquotes, ants, beetles, sow bugs, spiders, centipedes and slugs.
Toads have what is called their paratoid glands, located close behind each eye. These highly developed glands are used for defense against potential predators. When threatened or attacked, the glands secrete an irritating poison that is quite distasteful. If the predator is smart, they will release the toad rather than eat it since ingesting the poison can and probably will make the predator quite sick. Nausea, a racing heart and in some cases, even death can be the result. This doesn't mean that the Western Toad is immune to predation. The tadpoles are a tasty treat for birds and fish, and after the tadpole stage, they must keep watch against snakes, birds, and mammals that aren't smart enough to leave them alone. Since the Western Toad doesn't quite trust human affection, it's not a good idea to handle them too much. Don't kiss them! And wash your hands before you get the poison in your mouth or your eyes.
Hopefully, the increase in organic, chemical free gardening will help give the Western Toad and other local amphibians a chance for survival. Give your toads a safe environment and your toads could be helping your gardens for decades, as they have been known to live for 35 years or more!