Letters To Mating Animals: Good Morning Western Toad

Highline Magazine Summer 2001 Volume 3, Issue 2

ToadsGood morning Western toad, how was your six month sleep? I hope you’re rested, because it’s time for you to shake off the hibernation hangover and dig your way out of the squirrel burrow you poached last fall. It’s May, and you and I both know you have somewhere to be.

Getting there won’t be easy, so you’d better lick up some spiders and do some stretching. The journey is long; you’ll brave sharp twigs, ravens and bike tires before you reach the breedin’ pond. It’s a little weird that you would prefer to walk rather than hop, but whatevs – just get there. Guys, you should probably arrive first. I have to tell you, the “alert call” you use to draw in the females is not the long pent-up I’m-going-to-hump-you-to-death croak I would expect, but sounds instead like a bird twittering. If this is the cry of deep amphibian lust building for a year, I don’t get it. But, whatever smooths your skin back.

I would like to talk to you about foreplay. I’ve been watching, and it appears there is no courtship or even polite introductions. I understand you are “explosive breeders,” needing to get it all done in a couple of weeks. But you males are so blindly obsessed with finding a gal, that you grab anything that remotely resembles a female, including rocks, sticks, frogs, and other guy toads. This isn’t a frat party, boys! Good thing the gods gave you that “release call,” that says in a weak, bird-like way: “Hey buddy, I’m a dude.” No point in writhing around and wasting all your sperm when you need to focus all your energy on getting it in those eggs. A species doesn’t propagate itself! Well, not yours anyway.

Guy-toads, I feel freakishly tingly looking at your hormone-swollen thumbs. The way you shimmy up the female’s much larger back, reach around under her arms and suction cup those sticky nuptial pads to her chest. Ribbit! Now you’re on nice and tight and….

Nothing. The rub is, that there is no rub! Nothing ACTUALLY happens down there. No penetration. No coitus, not even a tickle, nada. The gals start churning out thousands of eggs, laying them out in long, black pearly chains behind them. The guys spray sperm into the water overtop, hoping they’ll find a way to their chromosomal match floating like limp spaghetti in the shallow water. Toads, your pseudo-copulation is kind of a let down after the sticky thumbs thing.

The real kick in the teeth is that 99% of the eggs will not even grow up! They’ll be eaten, remain unfertilized, get too cold or simply fail to launch in some way. And then you still have to worry about us effing up your habitat, running you over during migrations, putting scary fish into your lakes, and spreading disease on our boots and not-so-hip waders.

Given all that, I hope there is some unseen satisfaction that makes the whole thing worthwhile, especially ‘cause you don’t stick around to raise the toadlets. Have a good trip back to the woods, stay moist, and keep the poison glands loaded.