When our sons and daughters were young, and one of our family members spotted a toad, we would holler out “Toad alert!” It was our way to warn the others to watch their step so they wouldn’t squish it.
During summers when it was wet, there were a lot of toad alerts issued when we were playing Wiffle Ball in the yard, working in the garden or walking down the gravel roads. In drier years, we may have only said the words a couple of times, when we were in the shady, cool part of the yard near the trees.
This summer has been a year of many toad alerts. Though my youngest child is 17 and her brothers are in their 20s, I still smile and say the phrase silently to myself when I see a toad – and I’ve seen a lot of them. We have big toads, middle-sized toads and tiny toads, smaller than my thumbnail.
Unlike rats and mice, I do not have an aversion to toads. I have no problem picking them up and moving them out of harm’s way. Also, unlike toad haters who would disagree with me, I think that with their big, buggy eyes, fat little bellies and warty skin, they are cute. Most important, they eat a variety of insects, including three of my least favorites: grasshoppers, crickets and mosquitoes.
The two places where I’ve seen the most toads this summer are on the gravel roads when we’re walking the dogs and in our lawns. The toads on the road are plentiful, both live and the squished ones that were the victims of vehicle tires.
We are careful when we’re walking the dogs to dodge both. At times, we have had to skirt around live ones every few feet, as they hop from one side of the road to the other. We herd our dogs away from the dead ones that must, to the canine, look like a delicacy. They sniff them and appear eager to eat them when they encounter them, despite us, each time, moving them away from the flattened toads.
At home, I most often see the toads when I am mowing the lawn. I counted 56 during a two-hour mowing session the other day. But because I mow in rounds, I could have counted the same toad multiple times.
I try my best to avoid the toads when I’m mowing, slamming on the brakes of our John Deere lawn tractor, to let them move out of the way. Sometimes, I put the mower in park, get off and pick up the toads to move them to safety.
Occasionally, despite my best efforts, there is a toad fatality. The day of the 56 toad count, one hopped in the path of the mower before I had time to brake. I ran over it. I felt bad – still do – about causing its demise.
Since the incident, the words “Toad alert!” ring in my ears every time I mow, and I slow down whenever I come to a patch of thick grass where the amphibians may be hiding, waiting to catch their dinner. I’m glad to take longer to mow the lawn if it means saving a toad that is reducing the population of the trio of insects I despise the most.
Ann Bailey is a Grand Forks Herald reporter who also writes a twice-a-month personal column.