Saturday, April 10, 2010

Toad Love and Salamanders (Newts)

Last Saturday, I attended a workshop on vernal ponds at Catawba, Virginia. After a morning lecture by Michael Hayslett, Naturalist-in-Residence at Sweet Briar College, we ventured out to Fenwick Mines, an historic and nature area in Craig County. There, we saw and heard toads mating as well as several species of salamanders including spotted, Jefferson, and marbled.

Vernal ponds are spring ponds in the woods that dry up in the summer. While we have 6 ponds on our land, 4 are used by cows and only one dries up in the summer. All are surrounded by woods. Nevertheless on Sunday, I ventured to our ponds on the back part of our land anxious to see what was happening in them. In the small pond that dries up, I saw lots of tadpoles--no salamanders or toads.

I began to hear the distinct song of toads in the direction of two ponds near our hay barn. As I ventured toward the pond of the toad songs, they stopped. Having seen them the day before, I knew exactly what was going on.

The American Toad is a frequent visitor to my gardens and only ventures to water in the spring when you can hear their distinct songs along along those of the spring peepers.

This toad was perfectly still and looked like he was irritated that I was interrupting his or her mating activity.

This toad was swimming in the direction of the other one and floated toward it. Maybe after I left, they hooked up.

After I walked about 100 feet away, I heard the toads calling again. I did not see or hear any toads in the other ponds.

Red Spotted Newt

NOTE: Clark corrected my id--it's a Red Spotted Newt, very common in this area but very hard to identify from my field guide.

One pond had newts and eggs in it (the only one). I was able to take this photograph and tried to identify the salamander with Peterson Field Guides (see note above). This pond does not evaporate in the summer although it gets downright mucky with the cows in it.

Here are salamander eggs but they didn't look like the ones I saw the day before which were round or oval shapes around the branches whereas this one was all along the submerged branch.

On Thursday--only 4 days later, I checked on the two ponds where I saw the toads and salamanders. There was no sign of either. But two Wood Ducks flew off as I approached one pond so maybe they were feasting on tadpoles. I also haven't heard any more toad songs so maybe toads only have short period of mating while the spring peepers are still going strong.

Thanks to the great workshop, I look at our cow ponds a whole different way.


  1. AL, how interesting! We have "frogs" in our fish/lily pond, but looking at your photos, maybe they are toads. Clearly I missed something in biology and need to educate myself! Will pay more attention now. Thanks.

  2. It's nice to learn more about your surroundings.
    You live in a beautiful place, no wonder the toads were feeling romantic!

  3. Sounds like a cool workshop - we have no water on our land but do have the creek below. will have to chekc for vernal ponds when hiking!

  4. How neat to have ponds on your land!!! Great pics!

  5. I always love to see the Spring Peepers and wood frogs in the spring. I always try to photograph them, but they are very shy and I spend hours waiting for them to appear again. By the way, the salamander is actually a red spotted newt in the adult (aquatic) form.

  6. webb--toads are only in the pond for a short time in the spring for mating. The rest of the time you are likely to find them in your garden where they eat bugs.

    carolina mtns--wish we had a creek like you have although right now we have an intermittent one which will probably dry up in a few days.

    Kerri--I do have a new appreciation of the ponds now that I find all this aquatic life in them.

    clark--thanks for the id. I went back to the book and still have a difficult time identifying salamanders and newts.

  7. Voices of American toad filled the night as I approached my back door in the dark. Southwest Viginia - what a lovely place to be.

  8. Thanks for all the great toady info!

  9. Do you mind if I use some of these pictures in a presentation I am doing for my thesis proposal? My thesis is on the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (such as those found in agriculture runoff)on the skeletal development of toads. I wanted to find a good picture of a toad in the water and these are exactly what I was looking for.

  10. Ashley--you have my permission to use the photos. Please put "Joan Kark 2010" on the photos you use. Good luck with your presentation.