Nature 101

Bumpy? Yes. Wart-causing? No.

Don't believe the rumors - toads rule
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Are the more adventurous, younger members of your family down in the dirt playing with toads again?

It shouldn't cause you to worry: There is an ancient myth based on a superstitious fear that the wart-like swellings on a toad's skin can be contagious. But there is good medical evidence this is not true. However, because of this folk tale, toads have been given a bad rap and I'm here to set the record straight.

Fortunate are gardeners who have toads patrolling their gardens, since toads are the original insect exterminators. With their rough bumpy exterior, and colored like the earth itself, they look like clumps of soil.

A toad sits motionless until an insect comes strolling by, and then - WHAM - its sticky tongue fastens to the tip of its lower jaw and stretches out in lightning speed to snatch up the tasty insect morsel.

Toads also have a remarkable built-in defense system. Some of their wart-like bulges are filled with a poisonous substance that has a very disagreeable taste. I do not know this firsthand, but take my word for it: A dog has to sample a toad only once and forever after will give other toads the right of way (unless, of course, the dog is not very smart).

Although they spend most of their lives on land, toads must find water in which to mate and lay their eggs. Toad tadpoles hatch in several days and are soon transformed into tiny toads that venture out on land.

All summer long, they gorge themselves on insects and slugs. During the winter they hibernate, buried in the soil beneath the frost line. They return to the water each spring to complete the cycle.

It is surprising that their mating call, a sweet falsetto thrill, is one of the most melodious sounds in nature. Their eyes have a brilliant shine, and even Shakespeare observed the toad's beauty: "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like a toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a jewel in its head."

So make sure those more adventurous, younger members of your family leave the toads outdoors where they belong, singing in the spring and protecting our gardens in the summer.

Then you do not have to be concerned with the myth about toads causing warts.

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