Toads, for me, are like the perennial underdog, the bad news bears of the amphibian world. They’re goofy and clumsy on land, often tumbling down rocks or embankments as they pronk around. Much of Burlington is on sandy deltaic sediments from the Champlain Sea. It drains well and there are scant wetlands, save along the Winooski River, flood zones along the lake, or retention ponds built to handle run off. I live near the latter most habitat and from my windows can hear toads trilling on the first warm (50+ degree) nights of spring. After 8 years of seeing toads in my garden and wishing they had a breeding habitat, I finally got around to building a pond. I got toad eggs and raised them to mature tadpoles before releasing them into the pond. After about 2 days of filling the pond with water we already had a couple of competing males trilling away.
I’ve been seeing more and more toadlets (tiny, ~1/2″) popping around, so looks like my first parenting project was a success! But not all is well in the land of toads. Today while out at Derf Beach (Fred’s Beach to many, at the north end of North Beach), I was pulling poison ivy when all of a sudden I was spooked by a strange two-headed, two-legged beast. I yelled and jumped simultaneously. And then I realized what I was looking at!
Oh, that leg. Not sure how the snake got both legs into its mouth. But it did.
A yellow jacket showed up and curiously buzzed around the toad for a while
Eventually the snake wormed its way backward and over the green ash roots. Perhaps in response to us, trying to covet its meal. Each animal seemed to move in bursts followed by small movements trying to gain leverage.
Oh, how my heart went out to that poor toad. And what a beast of a toad, easily one of the largest toads I’ve ever seen. We surmised that it was puffing out its chest to make it difficult for the garter snake to swallow it any further. We watched the struggle unfold for about 10 minutes before we had to leave. Perhaps the most striking realization that I had was that toads don’t have facial expressions, a simple observation but so dramatic when I realized that this toad was having perhaps the most dramatic and terrifying experience of its life and it’s face was totally stoic, or rather unchanged. As we were leaving someone called us back for the culmination of the struggle. The snake had decided it had bit off more than it could chew and released the toad from its grasp. A sad day for snake enthusiasts, a great day for toad-a-philes, and a fascinating, but morally neutral day for ecologists :)