Sunday, July 20, 2008

Two Mysteries Solved

We returned from Connecticut on Thursday morning leaving behind rising temperatures and humidity. Here in Arizona we are greeted by sunny skies with dry air and a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit. After New England’s humidity, it almost feels good.

We spend most of Friday running errands but today is a restful day and we sleep late. I awake before Gus on this fine Saturday morning but once he gets up we decide to drive into town for breakfast. We spend a leisurely afternoon with Gus playing cards on the computer while I read a book and drift off to sleep with my cats curled next to me.

Tonight we sit on the patio watching the skies darken and lightening flash in the distance. The flag is blowing to the Northeast but the storm is coming from that same direction. We watch as the flag goes limp, then switches direction before the skies open and pour down liquid gold from the heavens. I listen as thunder cracks the night following the flashes of lightening. I don’t want to be a lightening magnet and decide to go inside while Gus stays out to enjoy the raging storm. Though I know it is foolish, I decide to upload some vacation photos on the computer while Gus is distracted by the weather. I am successful in offloading two photo cards before a loud crack of thunder and lightning cause the power to flicker and the computer to shut off along with all the lights. They come back on instantaneously but I decide that now is not the time to use the computer after all.

As the pouring rain pounds down on our new patio I go outside under the covered portion to see for myself that the newly installed drains really can handle this volume of water. Suddenly above the storm I hear the raspy cries of what sounds like an animal in distress. In my mind I imagine a rabbit, rat or javalina caught in the raging torrent that is rushing into the wash. I run inside for a flashlight and the footstool so that I can stand on it to see over the block wall and into the wash while still remaining beneath the covered portion of the patio and thus keeping myself dry. I shine the light into the brown churning water but can find nothing. Gus sees my distress and takes the light from me and walks into the pouring rain over to the block wall to look for himself. All he got was wet, for he could not see the source of the sound either.

Undeterred, I decide I have to know what is making that sound. I take the flashlight, don a jacket, grab an umbrella and go out the front door where I walk down the wet sidewalk to the metal railing that surrounds the wash. Yes, here I am out in a thunderstorm holding an umbrella and leaning on a metal fence because I need to satisfy my curiosity. I shine the light into the water and see some movement. Something is swimming in the water. The croaking cries continue and now that I am closer I realize there is more than one. Has some momma rat lost her brood once again and is she swimming in that muddy water trying valiantly to save her young? I search among the flooded brush and grasses trying to locate the source of the sound. Finally I can see something hidden in the grasses opening and closing its mouth. It is too far way for me to see for sure what it is, but by now I am certain it is not a mammal. From what I can make out, it appears to be a giant frog or a lizard.

Since I am getting drenched I decide to return to the house and tell Gus what I have discovered. My flashlight is still on as I turn but just as I am hitting the button to shut it off the edge of the beam illuminates a lump on the sidewalk before me. I see it only briefly before the light goes out. I quickly turn it on again and stand flabbergasted as I take in the sight of a toad the size of a softball sitting in the middle of the sidewalk.

My brain starts to churn in overtime and I recall seeing this species talked about on the news or PBS. While I can’t recall the name of it I do recall that it has poison glands behind its ears which I now see bulging in the beam of my flashlight. I am not afraid, but fascinated, for it cannot hurt me if I don’t pick it up (which I have no intention of doing given what I now know, though I would if I didn’t know better. I like frogs and toads.).

Seeing the toad solves the mystery of the sound in the storm, but it also solves a mystery from a year ago and I rush excitedly home to tell Gus. The toad doesn’t even move as I step over it and hurry back up the sidewalk to the house. I burst through the door calling to Gus, “Quick, get on your shoes! Come see what I found! I know what is making the sound, and I think it is the thing that you encountered on your walk last summer!” Gus, who had settled into his recliner, quickly gets up and follows me out the door in his slippers. The rain has tapered off somewhat and is falling at a more gentle rate. I pass the flashlight and umbrella to him and tell him where to point it.

There on the sidewalk before him the toad still sits like a lump. While he keeps watch I rush back to the house for the camera remembering last summer when he came in from a twilight walk with Blossom excitedly telling me of some strange creature he encountered in the dark. He described it as being soft and round and when he touched it with his toe it scurried off down the embankment towards the wash. We racked our brains trying to figure out what it was. A tarantula? A packrat? A lizard? But though Gus could not see it well, none of those guesses seemed to fit what he had experienced. Now we have our answer.

I handed the Nikon D80 to Gus and held the flashlight and umbrella for him, trying to protect the electronics from the rain. Gus snapped off 22 photos of the creature, which didn’t seem disturbed by our presence at all. Meanwhile, the croaking songs in the wash continue. Later, after he had uploaded the photos onto the computer I open the back door to check on the progress of the storm. The rain has picked up again and as I scan the yard in the dim light from our patio ceiling fan I am shocked to see yet another toad hopping across the bricks near the stone wall. I call to Gus and he brings the camera to get yet another shot.

I have no idea how this animal got into our backyard but we are concerned that it is trapped. While we discuss whether to try to capture and release it, the frog neatly leaps up onto the 12 inch stone wall and hops down on the other side. Still, Gus tries to lift it with the shovel without getting too close. The hopping toad causes Gus to rush back under the patio with me. We decide to leave nature to itself and check in the morning to see if the toad has found its own way out. It was a good decision.

Further reasearch reveals that our toad is a Colorado River Toad which can paralyze or even kill dogs that tend to lick the animal. We will have to be careful about letting Blossom out in the dark of the night during the monsoon from now on.


Shelley said...

Wow - amazing photos of a somewhat dangerous toad! Glad your dog will be safe!

Pappy said...

Ah, the old poison river toad. I can't wait for the next episode. First maniacle rats, now toads with no fear of humans and poison glands. Sounds like you might put a pied piper to good use. Pappy

Anonymous said...


Welcome back.

That is one ugly thing.

AphotoAday said...

You've gotta wonder where the frogs hide out until it starts raining...   What a great adventure...   Nice shots.

kjpweb said...

Nice surprise! And in most cases - if they got in - they get out. (Unless you have to offer a perfect environment for them!)
Cheers, Klaus

Kathryn said...

Welcome home! So I guess you won't be kissing the toad to see if he turns into a prince!
The monsoon moisture finally made it up to No. Utah today, it's raining! Yeah!!!!

Larry said...

Kathie It's funny how you can turn something as simple as finding a toad into a mystery novel!If I'm everin Colorado remind me not to lick the toads.

Amila Salgado said...

Cool Toad! I like the first pic. Head on shots really bring out their character. I got nausea after handling a Toad way back and learnt my lesson the hard way.

Jackie said...

What an interesting toad tale. I had no idea there are deadly toads in this country. What was all the noise about though? Mating calls? Happy toads in the rain? I can't imagine a wet toad would be unhappy.

Naturegirl said...

What an interesting replay of your excitement for that night! I smile as I read your story because like you I would NOT leave this alone..I too would go out regardeless of weather and investigate myself. Oh how brave you are going out to the wash as I am familiar with the total darkness in the reserve or wash areas of Arizona.
I would be afraid to run into a Javelina or a coyotte! There it was..a little old untouchable toad!
This was my smile for the night!
Loved this story! :)NG

Anonymous said...

Fascinating story! That's one big toad. Ours aren't nearly that size and I'm glad they aren't as poisonous either. I'm with you, I like frogs and toads too!

bobbie said...

Welcome home, Kathie

I love toads. We have very tiny ones here. Your photos are wonderful, and I really enjoyed your story. - See -
I'm not the only one crazy enough to go out in the thunder storm to try to see some little creature. But I've nevr succeeded in photographing one.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know some toads are poisonous. We have one living around our pool who scares the *#@! out me once in a while when I stumble over him in the garden.

Kathie Brown said...

Shellmo, it was such fun and that toad is almost as big as my dog!

Pappy, the Pied Piper indeed! Never a dull moment around here!

Roy, thank you! Yeah, he sure is and you should hear it cry! It has a voice to match its looks!

Aphotoaday, Gus and I were wondering the same thing!

kjpweb, it was a nice surprise and I was so glad to solve both mysteries.

Katnell, Gus says I don't have to kiss any frogs because I've already found my "prince"!

zhakee, I think it is a mating call and I think they are happy, though their cry does sound like they are distressed. If I use my imagination I can just see one smoking a post sex cigarette!

Nature Girl, Glad I'm not the only crazy one driven by curiosity! While it is dark out here, I did not have to go into the wash but only walked down the sidewalk next to my house and leaned over the fence. I was tempted to climb the fence but was concerned, like you, that I would find something I would want to get away from quickly and at age 51 I don't scale fences that well anymore! I'm so glad I made you smile!

Amy, I thought you might like amphibians but I just read your post where some chickens dined on a few leopard frogs and I was beginning to wonder...:)

bobbie, thank you! You can join Nature Girl and I in our pursuit of Satisfying Our Curiosity. We'll form a club called the Crazy Curiosity Seekers! As a requirement for joining, you must be willing to throw caution to the wind! I think you'll fit right in!

bookbabie, let's hope he is the dry harmless kind and not the wet poisonous climb. I'm sure you can research this on the internet. I hope you don't stumble and fall into the pool in the meantime!

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, If you come see me I will remind you not to lick the toads. (do you really need someone to tell you that?) You always make me laugh!

Gallicissa, I'm glad you only got a little nauseous and didn't get paralyzed or killed! Goodness!

Texas Travelers said...

Great post.
Loved the photos.

Good detective work.


Marvin said...

I knew that many toads contain enough toxin to make a small mammal ill or even kill them if the toad is eaten. I did not know there was an even more toxic species in North America. It sounds as if the Colorado River Toad is potent enough to use for poisoning your blowgun's darts.

Kathie Brown said...

Thanks troy. You didn't know I had a Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe, did you!

Marvin, I'm sure some native populations used them for that purpose. I didn't know we had them here either until they showed up. As soon as I saw those glands I knew they could secrete poison. Then I had to go searching for the species. I'm learning new stuff every day down here!