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In Praise of the Toad

In Praise of the Toad – Really?

Few things can annoy me more than injustice, prejudice, unfair treatment and unwarranted accusations. And when I hear comments like “toads give you warts”, I feel sorry for both the falsely accused creature and the ignorant person, who says so. I was really upset when during a practical exercise with live toads one Aussie student bragged laughingly “we used to use them as golf balls”. What a callous attitude towards a living organism! Even if it is as despised as the cane toad, an introduction to Australia from Puerto Rico gone badly wrong as it gobbles up anything that moves and fits into its mouth.

When I overheard during “University Open Days” a visitor at the sight of a cute toad exclaim “Yuk, how ugly”, I was inclined to remark “You aren’t exactly a beauty either – take a look in the mirror some time”, but I simply said that toads are a lot more beautiful than some people. However, what I find most unfair is the allegation that toads kill cats and dogs. What nonsense. Even the biggest toads (and there are some 20 cm giants) feed only on (and thereby kill) slugs, earthworms, caterpillars, beetles, woodlice and other little critters, but they do not hunt and kill cats and dogs! Of course when attacked by a dog or a cat many times the size of the ordinary toad, the latter tries to defend itself – wouldn’t you? But a toad has no claws to scratch with, no teeth to bite with, no horns to butt with, not even a hard shell to withdraw into. So, what can it do to defend itself? One mild deterrent is to empty its bladder. Should that not help in getting the message across that it wants to be left alone, it can exude from glands behind its ears a milky-white, sticky substance, which tastes horrible and burns in the eyes. And yes, when ingested it can affect the function of the heart. Its sole purpose: to teach dogs, cats, foxes, etc. a lesson, so that a second time they’ll behave and let the toad get on with its business of cleaning the gardens and plantations of vermin. Were the toads to outright kill their attackers, the plot to teach them a lesson so that future attacks won’t happen would not work. The attacker needs to stay alive in order to learn.

After the war (the Second World War I’m talking about), toads were my best friends, my pets, my playmates and companions. True, they can be a bit greedy at times, but they have beautiful eyes and always carry a lovely bright smile on their face. They aren’t as stupid as some may think they are. One of my toads after observing some mice climbing up the cage wirework, honestly learned from watching this and attempted the same feat. No uninitiated, uninspired toad would have done that. That very same tame toad also accepted pieces of cheese from me as food – again learning must have been involved for toads normally will only accept moving prey. Obviously one can have a lot of fun with pet toads.

They have purposely been introduced to many countries to help fight against slugs and crop-eating insect pests and they do their job efficiently and silently at night (except for the short mating season when the males are noisily living it up a little), but unfortunately, they are non-selective eaters and will also gobble up beneficial species. Anyway, those who do not believe that a small puppy dog and a huge toad can become friends (when familiar with each other), should have taken a look into my garden in Jamaica: there was the evidence before their eyes.

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and, 2018.
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