One of the processes involved in settling into a new place is getting to know the neighbors.
I was out in my new backyard early one morning last week, just sitting and enjoying the relatively cool air before sunrise when I heard a rustling in the fallen, dry mulberry leaves along the fence line.
I peered toward the sound, struggling to see clearly in the dim light. Suddenly, a small form, something about the size of a goose egg, launched itself out of the shadows toward me.
The sudden movement startled me, and I let out a shriek and jumped out of my chair.
As my brain registered the identity of the small form on the ground, I immediately felt foolish and hoped no one in the neighborhood had heard me.
It was a mostly brown little toad, and as he (or she) squatted there on the ground, I have to say it seemed quite pleased with itself.
After my heart slowed down, I was able to take a closer look at my little visitor and to make out some distinguishing marks. Chief among these was a pale line that ran all the way down its back and pale lines on its sides.
Since that day, I have seen the little toad often, mostly early in the morning, sometimes late at night, especially when I water my plants.
I was able to take a photo of it and checking in my identification books on reptiles and amphibians, determined that it is likely a species called the Gulf Coast Toad or the Coastal-Plain Toad, both relatively common toad species in this part of the state.
I also did a little more research and learned that toads are closely related to frogs, but toads typically have dry, warty skin and parotoid glands from which they secrete bufotoxin, a poison that helps protect them from predators. Since I don’t plan on handling this little fellow, his poison won’t be a problem for me.
I also became interested in the name “Bufo,” the genus name for some toad species.
After a little research online, I found that there is a closely related word, “buffo,” that describes a clown or comic actor in Italian opera, which comes from the Italian word “buffare,” which means “to puff out.” Although I couldn’t find any direct links, I know there is a frog or toad reference in there somewhere.
I wondered what Mr. Toad was doing hanging around my backyard, and I read that toads are carnivores, subsisting on a diet mainly of insects. In that case, he is welcome in my yard anytime he wants to be there.
Karen Gleason is the senior staff writer for the DelRio News-Herald. She loves nature and the outdoors and has been an avid bird watcher since childhood.