How to - Gardening with Kids

Warty creatures

Welcome a prince (or princess) into your garden.

Although kissing a toad is asking a lot-even if it might turn into a handsome prince-smart gardeners love this voracious, bug-eyed amphibian, warts and all. And no wonder! A toad's long, sticky tongue seldom misses its target: slugs, beetles, cutworms, flies, grasshoppers, moths, sow bugs, pill bugs, centipedes, millipedes, crickets and ants. A toad can eat three times its weight in tiny, tasty critters every day, but it doesn't eat flowers or vegetables.

Children appreciate toads, too. Most giggle when they surprise one hidden under lush, green foliage, then gleefully chase it for a closer look. Once smitten, many young nature lovers enjoy making their garden pal a simple shelter, a toad abode. Another fun project for kids is creating a tadpole nursery-great for witnessing jelly-like eggs hatch into tiny self-propelled tadpoles that slowly metamorphose into juvenile toads.

Toads are often confused with frogs, and the differences are quite subtle. Toads typically have dry, bumpy skin-not really warts as folklore would have it. They use their hind legs for hopping, and live as adults on land in damp, shady places, returning to the water only when they breed. Frogs, on the other hand, usually have smooth skin and longer hind legs than toads that they use for leaping. They live their entire lives in lakes, ponds and water-filled ditches. Frogs tend to lay eggs in masses, toads in chains; but the larvae of both are called tadpoles.

Toads in Canada

American toad. In spite of its name, this primarily nocturnal toad-the model for many artists who draw for children-lives in central and eastern Canada as well as the U.S. Generally, it's found in grasslands, meadows, yards or deciduous forests from southeastern Manitoba to Labrador and Newfoundland. Typically, it has one or two brownish-red spot on each brown or grey-green blotch on its back, a spotted belly, a large head, a short snout and large, gold speckled eyes. Its musical trill can last almost 30 seconds.

Canadian toad. This diurnal American-toad-look-alike (except for the bump it has between its eyes) lives mainly in the wetlands, pastures, forests, grasslands-but not on the dry prairies-of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. It has a brief, harsh trill.

Fowler's toad. Fast becoming a rare species in Canada, the Fowler's toad inhabits sandy beaches and wooded areas in southwestern Ontario. This nocturnal toad also looks a lot like the American toad, except it has three or four spots in each brownish blotch on its back. Its call is a piercing scream.

Great Plains toad. This toad, more tolerant of heat than others found in Canada, lives in the short grass Prairie and semi-desert areas of southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. This toad is covered in dark blotches with small spots, on a pale brownish grey or olive background, and can easily be identified by its cranial crests. Usually nocturnal, during breeding season it's sometimes active during the day. Its high-pitched, long mechanical trill can be heard for almost two kilometres on the Prairies.

Western toad. The Western toad lives in semi-arid and moist forested areas throughout British Columbia and central Alberta. (It's the only toad found in B.C.) It usually has a thin, light-coloured stripe down its back; it has a quiet, bird-like call. Usually nocturnal, at higher elevations it sometimes basks in the summer sun.


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