Northland Nature: Tiny toad time in late July

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at

A tiny American road as they are now seen in late July. (Photo by Larry Weber)

As I walk to the lake this morning, I see some mushrooms near the trail — a testimony to the recent rains and the season moving on.

At the edge of the woods, I note that raspberries and blueberries have become ripe. They both contribute to my breakfast on this clear July day.

In the dew, spiderwebs are easy to see. In recent weeks, these snares have become more numerous and larger as the spiders grow in summer. I have seen that spiders tend to be larger during hot weather. Apparently, they find more food in these conditions.

Arriving at the lake, I watch the local loon pair with their young chick. While the adults dive, the little fluff stays on the surface. Again, there is more happening at the lake.

From along the shore comes two sounds of the season: “knock-knock” calls of mink frogs and plucking sounds made by green frogs. Both of these frogs are summer breeders and mark the end of anuran (frogs and toads) reproductive time. Laying eggs late in the season here, their tadpoles are able to winter in this large body of water, reaching maturity next year.


It’s been a tough time for some of the frogs that were breeding early in the spring: wood frogs in mid- to late April, chorus frogs in mid-April to mid-May, and spring peepers in mid-April to late May.

Many vernal ponds that appeared so full of water and ample for frog breeding in spring could not handle the arid conditions of the next couple months and dried up. No water in the vernal ponds means no sites for tadpoles to grow. Fortunately, not all ponds had this harmful happening.

Leaving the lake and taking the path through the woods to the yard, I see that there were many successful products of the season. This region has an abundance of tiny toads. Minute versions of adults, these very young toads are barely a half-inch long. Seeing them in this setting is a regular occurrence of late July.

This year, it is also a very welcome sight; it tells me that some toads found safe places to breed and despite the dryness of May and June, they were able to develop.

American toads have a short breeding period, usually less than a week. This year, I noted this time to be May 20-30. During this lively week, male high-pitch trills punctuated landscapes surrounding the wetlands and seemed to be heard any hour day or night. As I see now in midsummer, they apparently have chosen well to lay their eggs, mostly avoiding drying ponds.

Unlike frogs that place eggs in masses of jelly, toads string theirs in the water. The larvae quickly develop within and the dark tadpoles scatter in the shallows. Here, they feed on algae and grow so rapidly that they are able to leave the water in less than two months.

During their development, they grow legs — hind ones first, front ones later. They grow lungs for breathing in their new terrestrial lives and no longer need gills. And one day, they go from wetland homes as metamorphosed tiny toads.

With rough skin, they keep from desiccating as they move through the woods and yards. They find food in the myriad insects that live here, but they also can become meals for other predators.


It is a good sight on a hot July day to see numerous tiny toads after a dry May and June.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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