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.