Toad Wisdom

Hi. I’m a toad in a hole and I’d like to talk to you for a minute about the incredible and complex relationships that exist between organisms in nature.

You’ll be familiar, of course, with obvious examples of interactions like pollination. Bees, butterflies, and many other species go looking for food, and as they do, they drag pollen from flower to flower in a way that often results in fertilization. Many plants wouldn’t be able to create fruits or seeds without the relationship between themselves and hungry insects (or sometimes other animals). Very nice.

Predation is another easy example, right? Predators want to eat and their potential prey would like not to be eaten. From that basic premise has come an amazing array of evolutionary adaptations. Species on both sides of the equation have developed camouflage and other ways to conceal themselves from the opposition. Some potential prey species have evolved methods of tasting bad or grow shells and/or spines that make them less attractive to hungry predators. There are countless other strategies and counter strategies that come into play as some animals stalk or wait in ambush for others.

Let us ruminate for a moment on the relationships between herbivores and plants. Grasses have spent millions of years making themselves increasingly difficult to digest, to the point that many animals that rely upon them for food have stomachs that act as multi-chamber fermentation vessels. That’s right – bison make kombucha out of grass. Or something like that. …What do I know? I’m a toad.

Most interactions in nature are not simply two-sided, but are fascinating and convoluted cascades or webs of impacts. The way predators influence the activities of their potential prey, for example, can dramatically change the ways those hunted animals move around the landscape and select their diet. That, in turn, affects plant communities, as well as the resources they provide for pollinators, birds, and lots of others. As a result, the presence mountain lions in an ecosystem might significantly impact butterfly populations and coyote abundance can increase forage availability for bison and cattle. It’s crazy.

However, interactions between organisms don’t have to be complex to be meaningful. In fact, I’d like to focus on one particular interaction between white-tailed deer and Woodhouse’s toads. More particularly, I want to highlight the interplay between one specific deer and one specific toad. And by ‘one specific toad’, of course, I mean me.

That deer walked across the Platte River, wading through shallow water and across multiple sand bars along the way. I don’t know why it crossed the river. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but I don’t know the punch line. Because I’m a toad.

Anyway, as the deer crossed those sand bars, its feet made small rounded depressions in the wet sand. Those depressions happened to be just the right size for a toad to nestle into on a hot summer day to stay cool and comfortable. So I did. Thanks, pal.

The deer track was the perfect size
This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

15 thoughts on “Toad Wisdom

  1. Contrary to many of my colleagues, I’ve long been a fan of using anthropomorphism as a literary device. I loved this!

  2. Thanks for writing about the reticent toad. As a kid, I made ‘toad houses’ by scooping soil from a downward trench, covering the deeper part with sticks, leaves and then soil. And kept it moist. One toad lived in one for 2 years! I know bc it was missing an eye and so it was distinctive. I fed it black ants from the garage apron. What a great memory.

  3. great tale without any tail Chase

    On Wed, Mar 30, 2022 at 8:31 AM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” Hi. I’m a toad in a hole and I’d like to talk to > you for a minute about the incredible and complex relationships that exist > between organisms in nature. You’ll be familiar, of course, with obvious > examples of interactions like pollination. Bees,” >

  4. With the way this started, I thought it was going in the direction of one of my kids’ favorite books “There’s a frog in a hole in the bottom of the lake” by Loren Long.

  5. Each year we ask our new volunteers to be careful, keeping their eyes open for our valued “Toad crew members.” Once Spring arrives, their (the Toads) activity increases within our 12×12 BioTents placed on our plots of milkweed, as well as the gravel holding areas. Another example of the Joys of Spring!

  6. Gosh, Toad, I thought when you started that predation paragraph, you were going to mention the frightening phenomenon of the hognose snake, a toad predation specialist. But I understand why you might not have wanted to go there.

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