Alongside our little garden pond we have a sign reading “FROG parking only; all others will be TOAD”; whether you like puns or not this reminds us of some reptiles which we might find in both garden and countryside. Telling them apart is a fairly common question, usually as the creatures try to get away from clumsy humans trampling around; after all, that could lose them their next insect meal.
One immediate clue is how they try to escape. Frogs have long and muscular legs, so they can leap from place to place, often unexpectedly, but toads are not as athletic and crawl slowly but purposefully to their destination; that does not mean they are weaker than frogs, and if you ever hold one – carefully, please! – their strength shows as they try to push out. That leads to a second difference: their skins are by no means alike. Frogs look, and are, slippery, quickly sliding through attempts to hold them, but toads have a warty appearance and lack the sliminess of frogs. In simple terms, frogs look wet on the outside, and toads do not. They all need water to lay eggs (spawn) in spring, but during summer frogs look for wet places to live while toads wander off to a protected spot, and may not even look for water again until next spring; living in and out of water brings the name amphibian.
Those spots also suit slugs and snails, fine for toads in particular because they control numbers of those pests and reduce the damage which disappoints so many gardeners. So here is another animal for the list of welcome visitors; frogs probably less with their greater need for water. In coming weeks tadpoles of both frogs and toads will have grown large enough (and changed shape) to climb out of the water; I have seen two or three in the garden, different sizes, so not this year’s babies. Records of toads passing 50 years of age are unusual, but any you see may be starting their breeding life (five years or more); they are not everyone’s favourite animals but protection in our gardens can be rewarded by the pest control they bring with them. By Roy Burrell