In Search of Ponies: Toads ingrained in New Mexico

Walking outside after the sun goes down they scatter before you like proverbial cockroaches under a light.

Such was the case when I killed my first.

Stepping down from the edge of the porch, I was in mid-motion when I saw it sitting there directly under my lowering shoe. Carrying a full water dish at the time, I cringed and wished but could not stop my foot from landing squarely on top of it.

Of course as soon as I regained my balance, I nudged at the toad with the tip of my shoe – its lack of response confirming the moment had been fast and final.

Then there was the mower incident.

It bears mentioning that no matter how you try to flush them out before you mow — I have tried — they refuse to be herded and inevitably end right back in the path of the blades.

This large fella was no exception.

I heard it, caught a glimpse of flying toad out of the corner of my eye, and again cringed.

And, as in years past, there are the pancake toads in the driveway and the occasional mummified toads in the barn and garage.

Recent-ly, toads came up in casual conversation and a woman remarked that she too is frustrated by them not, per say, by their presence, but more because she has a heck of a time cleaning the messes they leave around the house.

Having always found it curious that so many toads appear in the hot months, in what typically a pretty dry climate, it seemed an appropriate time for a little toad 101.

Among the first interesting facts out there is that toads and frogs are in the same family, but for the most part, toads, which we find lined up under our porch lights most nights, have fat bodies and dry, warty skin.

And, who would have thought it, the spadefoot toad (with shovel-like hind feet, thankfully they look nothing like the ones that met unfortunate ends at my place) is the New Mexico state amphibian.

Not only has the pungent-enough-to-make-you cry peanut-scented toad made its way to distinction by the state (competing with other toads, frogs and salamanders for the title), it is one of at least 15 types of toads found in the state — incidentally, a pretty good sampling considering there are only 21 types in North America.

The toad is so ingrained in the state, they even have roads named after them.

But how do they appear so quickly in the summer time, one might wonder, especially in those years with little-to-no water.

Well, they work fast, and, as do many New Mexico residents, they live for those few rain storms in the warm months.

And all it takes can be one little shower to kick off their population for the year.

Laying egg masses in the temporary puddles after rain, spadefoot tadpoles are deprived of their childhoods, having about two days to hatch and move 'em out before the puddles disappear.

In light of the puddle scenario, it stands to reason that the more rain, the more toads. It's a good thing they are ironically hatching in the same puddles that spawn pesky mosquitoes and a single toad can eat up to 10,000 insects in a summer, according to the USDA.

Mowers and walking people not withstanding, a toad's life can be a fairly long one, sometimes even up to 15 years, and being resourceful, they dig in and hibernate through winter, emerging to do it all again the next year – which also means more toads.

In fact, it seems running over one with the mower or stepping on one isn't so surprising after all. To the contrary — perhaps a collateral blessing of being nocturnal — it's a little more shocking they aren't getting squished in droves.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com or on the web at: www.insearchofponies.blogspot.com

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