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home : outdoors : outdoors
July 17, 2018

7/6/2018 7:24:00 AM
the lake where you live
Ted Rulseh

Years ago while walking with my family on a road near Birch Lake, where we used to vacation and now live, son Todd noticed some black critters hopping on the asphalt.

"Look at the little toads," he said.

"Those aren't toads, they're bugs," I said in my authoritative fatherly tone. Then Todd picked one up and showed it to me. It was indeed a toad, a little black thing, smaller than a modest-sized cricket. There were dozens of them hopping along.

I recently encountered something similar along Sand Lake Road. This time there weren't dozens but hundreds of little toads, seeming to come from a wetland bordering a small lake They kept coming out of the grass alongside the road, heading across, bound for where I don't know.

It made me think of a different mass hatching phenomenon, involving sea turtles in tropical climes. The sea turtles emerge from the water en masse and lay eggs far up on the beach - it's called the arribada, Spanish for arrival. About six weeks later the babies hatch and race instinctively for the ocean. On their way shore birds mercilessly pick them off. It's a natural event I've always wanted to observe.

Baby toads, of course, don't hatch from eggs. The female toads do lay eggs, but they hatch into little black tadpoles (or pollywogs) that gradually metamorphose into toads. It all starts in spring, soon after ice-out, when adult toads leave their upland homes and enter a lake or pond to breed. The males attract females with a long, musical trill, lasting as much as half a minute and easy to distinguish from frog mating calls.

When a female shows up, the male takes hold of her as she discharges eggs encased in a pair of long strands of a jelly-like substance, each strand containing thousands of eggs. The male fertilizes the eggs by emitting a fluid that contains sperm.

The egg strands drape over plants in the water. It takes about three to 12 days, depending on conditions, for tadpoles to hatch. Unlike frog tadpoles, which live solitary lives, toad tadpoles swim in large schools (called shoals). You may have seen these in the shallow water of ponds.

The transition from tadpole to toad takes about two months, give or take. The newly minted toads emerge from the water over a short span of time; that explains the horde of them I recently saw. They make their way to higher ground, where they start out by feeding on small insects and then graduate to snails, slugs, spiders and larger bugs.

After two to three years, toads are mature enough to breed, and they instinctively know the way back to the water from which they came. I might never get to a tropical island to observe the sea turtle arribada, but at least I know there's a Northwoods version that happens every summer.

Ted Rulseh, who lives on Birch Lake in Harshaw, is the author of "The Lake Where You Live," a blog where readers can learn about the lakes they love - the history, geology, biology, chemistry, physics, magic, charm. Visit lakewhereyoulive.blogspot.com. Ted may be reached at trulseh@tjrcommunications.com.

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