Beneficial animals Gardening

Slime of Toad and Toe of Frog… Who’s Afraid of Amphibians?

For the month of October, the Ecology in the Garden column will be going with a Halloween theme: the discovery of unloved critters, the truth about the myths that surround them, as well as their essential role in your garden. Ready to face your phobias?

I have to admit that today I wanted to do an article on spiders, but I’m not quite mentally ready… I promise to overcome my disgust and tell you about it by Halloween… maybe…!

For the moment, I have chosen to tell you about an animal that is undoubtedly less frightening, but which repels more than a few: the anurans.

The what?

The anurans!

We are talking here about amphibians whose young are aquatic, and whose adults have no tail: frogs, bullfrogs, toads, tree frogs…

Why Do Anurans Disgust Us?

If you’re anything like me, you spent your childhood running through the woods and puddles in search of these cute little jumpers. You were thrilled to bring them back to adults who would inevitably let out a loud “YUCK!”

Frogs are anurans, this one has a butterfly on its head
This one even dressed up for you 😉 Photo: pexels.com.

In fact, the history of frogs and toads is fascinating and if you dig into it, you can find the disgust they inspire today:

Since antiquity, the toad has been associated with death and magic. In the Bible, it was a bad omen, especially during the plagues of Egypt and the Apocalypse. In the Middle Ages, it represented sin, in addition to being the animal of the devil and witches… And that’s without mentioning the use of toad poison in black magic potions, or to poison weapons!

With such a heavy past, you can imagine that our poor anurans’ reputation won’t come away unblemished!

grenouille léopard verte avec tâches noires
A common American species: the northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens). Photo: roy pilcher, .inaturalist.org.

Today, we no longer fear witch’s brew, but our dear friend Hollywood makes sure that we don’t forget these few historical details…

5 Facts About Anurans That Hollywood Exaggerates

  1. Anurans are amphibians. They have a more or less porous skin which allows them to absorb humidity and it must remain more or less humid. So YES, amphibians are often damp, wet, slimy… But it’s NOT true slime, nor will it stick to your fingers. Some have a little more sticky protective mucus than others, it’s true, but in no case is it dangerous.

    By the way, if you’re handling amphibians, be sure to wet your hands thoroughly first. Otherwise, you could damage their fragile skin, or even clog the pores that allow them to breathe with the oil of our own skin. (Yes, we have a protective layer too!)
Rainette dans une main
Cute spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) found on my property. Photo: Audrey Martel.

While I’m at it, amphibians live in wetlands. And for that purpose, what’s better than a cemetery? The stones make it cool, there’s shade, and several nooks and crannies where water can accumulate.

Dear people of the Middle Ages: we know you thought finding a toad at a funeral brings bad luck, but we know differently. It’s actually a good sign. It means that the ecosystem of the cemetery is healthy. Not that the devil is watching you!

Sincerely,

The Anurans.

Marionette Kermit la grenouille
  1. Amphibians do not live in putrid swamps full of radioactive waste. They absorb what touches their skin and don’t survive long if the water quality is poor. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, a healthy pond or forest will have many more amphibian species than a polluted environment. Because of this need for a healthy environment and water, amphibians are ecological indicators (or bioindicators) . These species are a barometer of the health of an environment. Biologists can even use their presence for their studies! So please, dear filmmakers, stop using signage showing frogs to illustrate a dirty watercourse.
  2. The bumps on the back of toads will not give you warts. They simply contain a liquid (that does not give warts either!) which tastes terrible. Thus, the= predator spits out his meal, and will eat no other toad for the rest of its life (and it won’t have a mouth full of warts either!). So, yet again: toads do not cause warts! Have I repeated it enough? No warts!!!
Crapaud d’Amérique, brun et noir sur un lit d'aiguille de conifères
Crapaud d’Amérique (Anaxyrus americanus). Photo: josh_vandermeulen, inaturalist.org. Photo: josh_vandermeulen, inaturalist.org.
  1. Poison! I could do an entire article on all the kinds of poisons anurans have, so don’t blame me for generalizing here. However, unless you eat the animal, you won’t poison yourself. Few species are toxic enough to represent a danger to humans, with the exception of some species of poison arrow frogs in South America. The indigenous population there covers their weapons with this toxin to hunt.

Anecdote: I have heard of shamans in Africa who lick toads to absorb a certain amount of hallucinogenic toad poison and enter a trance. I obviously don’t recommend it. So, don’t lick amphibians: it might upset them!

  1. Anuran tongues are long, yes, but not transatlantic zip lines! They’re just tongues, after all! They use them to hunt for food. And if the far end is sticky, that’s to help them catch insects. Did you know that some anurans (the biggest ones) feed on mice or even birds? These big ones have to; otherwise, they would never be satisfied! Besides, these species often don’t have the long tongue that we see in the movies.
Tongue Frog GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
This tongue is bifid (separated in two).

This tongue is bifid (separated in two at the tip).

The Role Anurans Play in the Garden

I wouldn’t be teaching you much by telling you they eat the undesirables of your garden! Insects (flying or soil-dwelling), slugs, snails and small mammals (like mice) are on the menu.

It is not uncommon for me to find some in my garden. After all, a garden is a regularly watered patch of relatively loose soil, protected from the sun’s rays, and which is full of insects… It’s a paradise for the anurans that we all want in our flowerbeds and vegetable gardens!

The Role of Anurans Play Elsewhere

As they are fascinating, easy-to-find animals that react very quickly to variations in their environment, we use frogs in several aspects of our lives that affect us directly or indirectly.

The following are just a few examples:

  • Humans of some parts of the world eat them (Not the toxic ones, though, duh!)
  • We use them for practicing dissection in high school (after all, a doctor has to start his training somewhere!)
  • As they are bioindicators, we rely on their presence to determine how healthy an environment is.
  • We use them for studies in many other fields (embryology, toxicity, cloning, etc.).
  • Their various toxins are widely used in manufacturing drugs.
  • Certain toxins allow natives to hunt more efficiently.
  • And more!

The next time you come face to face with a frog or toad, just let it do its thing! They are more helpful than dangerous, and who knows, maybe that little frog will become a prince!

Princess And The Frog Shrug GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

4 comments on “Slime of Toad and Toe of Frog… Who’s Afraid of Amphibians?

  1. Kristen Brown

    Excellent post. I am very glad to read this excellent post. Thanks from this website where people get many essay ideas and inspiration. Thanks

  2. Wonderful article Audrey. I have fond memories of hunting for leopard frogs and American bull frogs in the ditches that used to line the streets. These open drainage ditches have now been replaced with underground sewers so the frogs are now all gone. More’s the pity.

  3. This is a very interesting article. I did not know frogs’ diets were so varied.

  4. Jt Michaels

    Thank you, Audrey. Fun article!

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