August 29, 2022

When I took Zena outside yesterday, she went through her general snuffling routine.  Even if she stops right off the sidewalk, she will usually follow the same pattern to continue snuffling.  We go to the snowball bush to see if there is anything interesting, proceed toward the street, and then walk along the curb as far as I will let her go.  While Zena usually wants to enter our neighbor’s yard, I restrain her, and she begins to sniff her way down toward the fence.  From there it is back to the side of the house, across the flower bed, and then along the front until she gets back to where she started.  This is her perimeter zone, and she makes sure it has not changed since the last time we went out.  This time was different, as I had not yet been out to get the paper.  It was lying in the drive, and we walked over to retrieve it.  As I picked up the paper, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye.  There was a small toad (1 inch or 2.5 cm) working its way across the driveway with intermittent hops. 

When I looked online, I found Woodhouse’s toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii) is a medium-sized true toad native to the United States and Mexico.  Woodhouse’s toad was first described in 1854 by the French herpetologist Charles Frédéric Girard who gave it the name Bufo woodhousii in honor of the American physician and naturalist Samuel Washington Woodhouse.  The large genus Bufo was split in 2006, with the North American species being included in the genus Anaxyrus and this toad became A. woodhousii.  Woodhouse’s toad is a stout amphibian and can grow to a maximum snout to vent length of 5 inches (127 mm).  The head has prominent cranial crests in front of and in between the eyes.  The dorsal surface of this toad is grayish-brown or yellowish-brown and it is speckled with small dark spots.  There is a narrow pale line running along the spine.  The belly is paler and is usually unspotted.  The male has a single vocal sac on his throat and his 1-3 second call resembles the bleat of a sheep.

When I saw the toad I immediately though that Zena might attack it.  When insects or caterpillars move into her range, she will generally pounce on them several times.  Like other toads, the noxious secretions from the warts found on the skin afford protection against some predators, but toads may be found with the scars of mammal bites or bird pecks from unsuccessful attempts to make them food.  Woodhouse’s toads also rely on their general resemblance to the sand and dirt they live in, along with immobility, to escape detection.  The toad’s normal gait is both walking and hopping but it becomes energetic hopping after it has been detected.  Our toad hopped several times, remained still as I took its picture, and then quickly hopped under the car when I turned away.  Zena never noticed it, and now it was safe.

THOUGHTS:  While the woodhouse’s toad (A. woodhousei) lives in central North America (plains to Rockies) the fowler’s toad (A. fowleri) lives along the east (coast and inland to the plains).  The fowler’s was originally classified as a subspecies of the woodhouse’s until later research elevated it to a species.  The area of Arkansas where we live is on the cusp of the range of both the woodhouse’s toad and the fowler’s toad.  Another species of toad in the same area is the East Texas toad (A. speciosus) which was originally thought to be a hybrid of the two and was described as a subspecies.  It has also been elevated to full species and the idea of being a hybrid has been dismissed.  Genetic tracing has made significant changes in the classification of both the plant and animal worlds.  Changing the names does not alter the species’ role in the environment, but it does change our perception.  While a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, call it a weed and it can be torn out and discarded.  That goes for how we understand and talk about people as well.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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