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June 30, 2013

Toad in residence

A couple of nights ago when, by torchlight as the electricity was off, I opened the front door to give the dogs one last run before sleeping, we — the two dogs and myself — got the fright of our lives! Something was sitting on the front doorstep and as we emerged, it leapt down three steps and on to the grass we, including ‘it’, all froze not knowing what was coming next. Knowing that the intruder had to be identified — it could have been something dangerous — I concentrated the torch beam on it and was both surprised and very relieved to see a rather puzzled, distinctly fat, round-eyed toad which is not, I assure you, what one expects to see on a mountainside where the nearest body of water, aside from a couple of small, homemade lily ponds on the garden, is miles way. Not having come face to face with a toad before, the dogs were equally intrigued and the toad was just as curious about them as well. And other than taking a couple of half-hearted hops towards a group of large plant pots, seemed perfectly happy to brazen the unexpected situation out. The toad, it is either Duttaphyrus melenusticus or Duttaphyrus himalayanus according to an expert in the amphibians and reptiles of Pakistan who I happen to know, but, for ease of pronunciation, I have christened it Zappa, has taken up residence in a rainwater drain running underneath the steps and, being largely nocturnal, it sleeps the day away and emerges in search of sustenance just after sunset. Toads, unlike frogs, mainly emerge at night to gobble up ants, caterpillars, beetles and any other small insects which come their way and, as they excrete a noxious substance from glands in their skin, are rarely attacked by predators which do not like the smell of them although they are viewed as somewhat of a delicacy by some species of snakes. Toads, like their close cousins frogs, lay their eggs in water, the eggs hatching out into first tadpoles which, in turn, become toads. These harmless creatures, a gardener’s friend by the way as they can devour an amazing amount of troublesome insect pests, are on the decline all over the world because of loss of habitat. They prefer to live in wetlands or close to water bodies large and small, as human expansion is destroying the areas in which they have always lived. They are also being wiped out, mercilessly, by the spraying of agricultural pesticides, herbicides, weedicides, etc and by the many forms of water pollution caused by industry and by homeowners too. If you possibly can, make some kind of pond in your garden and surround it with a variety of interesting, leafy, groundcover plants and maybe, if you are lucky, a toad or two will move in and, like Zappa, provide some interesting, natural fun.