Protecting western leopard toads

Toad NUTS co-founder, Alison Faraday examines a water sample with Ella Martin, Kyla Philips and Emily van Dyk.

It happens every year, but no one knows what triggers it. It’s usually during a full moon and rain around late August to mid-September that the smaller-sized male western leopard toads mount the larger females to hitch a ride to watery breeding sites, all while living up to their common name, “snoring toads”.

With an occasional “snore” heard in the background, Toad NUTS (Noordhoek Unpaid Toad Savers) co-founder Alison Faraday spoke to the Kirstenhof Primary School Eco Club, last Friday, about these endangered enigmatic creatures which only occur in Cape Town and Agulhas.

She said they spend most of their life away from water, only leaving drains and old shoes in residential gardens and parks to breed in waterways such as the duck pond in Oranje Road, Kirstenhof.

Ms Faraday said the female lays about 20 000 eggs and when she is done the exhausted toads make the return journey to the same property they came from.

“They are never lost and in need of human help, except when crossing roads at night, because they have an inner GPS. They also need help to prevent them from falling into swimming pools – place a rock on the top step so they can climb out,” said Ms Faraday.

The toads hunt bugs, slugs, beetles, earthworms and caterpillars, she added.

“The biggest creature eaten was a mouse. Toads have no teeth but instead have a sticky tongue as long as its jaw and swallow their prey whole. This is why it is best not to use pesticides in the garden because toads ingest this through their tongue. The oldest leopard toad lived to 37 years and overflowed an ice cream container and all the spots had joined together. They are as long as they are wide.”

She said the eggs slowly take shape to become tiny toads that leave the water in their thousands between October and December. Relatively few of the offspring develop into adults, a process that takes up to three years for males and two to six years for females.

Apart from hungry ducks and cars, other hazards include loss of natural habitat, pollution, predatory fish, inbreeding and invasive plants that choke the water.

After talking toads, Ms Faraday had the children doing a mini SASS (SA Scoring System) test to measure the environmental health of the duck pond and nearby stream. The creatures found in the water samples indicated that both the stream and pond were in good health.

The exact size of the toad population is unknown but each year during the migration, volunteers brave cold and rainy nights to move the toads out of harm’s way. If you would like to do evening patrols or help with night rescues, volunteers can contact Philippa at 082 630 0187.

Listen to their snore here:

Toad NUTS co-founder Alison Faraday talking toads at the duck pond in Kirstenhof.
Kirstenhof Primary School Eco Club pupils Emma Meindel, left, and Kaitlin Meiring.
They came with buckets, ice cream containers and fishing nets to test the environmental health of the duck pond and stream in Oranje Road, Kirstenhof.
Kirstenhof Primary School Eco Club members with Toad NUTS co-founder, Alison Faraday.