Thursday, August 20, 2009

The toad who loved traps

(Guess who came to dinner?)

Every summer I have an American toad (Bufo americanus) that usually spends some time in my garage. Insects accumulate in one corner, and I suppose this becomes a sort of toad luncheonette. For a few days in early July, I found an adult toad sitting during the day behind the open door to the garage. I assume it went outside to forage at night, when toads are most active, but I never really followed him at that time.

Completely separate from anything to do with the toad, we have always had a deer mouse (Peromyscus sp.) problem at our house. Deer mice regularly enter the house somewhere, and they end up under the kitchen sink. So, for years I have kept metal box traps, known as Sherman live traps, set in the kitchen and along a raised wall in the garage. The garage is my first line of defense, where I capture many mice before they even break into the house. This trap has a spring-loaded door, so that once an animal enters the trap, it steps on a treadle on the floor of the trap, which causes the door to snap shut, trapping the animal inside. It is a valuable tool used by biologists who study small mammals. (By the way, deer mice love dark cavernous places, so I never even bait these traps with food. Just open the trap door, set it in a likely runway, and it functions like a deer mouse magnet).

Zoobooks Magazine
So in July, when I noticed that the trap in the garage was closed, I assumed I had another deer mouse to release far from the house in the woods. But when I opened the trap, a large American toad was inside. I released the toad on the floor of the garage, reset the trap, and had a good laugh about it with my wife. But to my amazement, the next day, the same toad was in the closed trap again. This time, I took the photo you see above, and released the habitual prisoner again. I never saw that toad after that second capture.

Now, this toad’s behavior is somewhat endearing, and it reminded me immediately of the “Frog and Toad” series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, which I have read to my children and grandchildren many times. But the most interesting part of this anecdote is yet to come. Notice in the photo above where this trap was located. It is on a ledge about two feet above the floor of the garage, much higher than toads can jump. But also notice the lumber, stacked in stair-step fashion adjacent to this wall. The only way this toad could have reached the ledge is to have hopped up each level of lumber to get to that ledge and the trap. And, it performed that maneuver two nights in a row.

Why did this toad go to so much trouble to get to that ledge, and then enter that metal box? To get to the other side? To explore worlds unknown to other toads? To get featured in a DrTom blog? I have no idea. But it proves how entertaining nature can be, even in your very own garage.


  1. that was funny, interesting, cool, and... now a new joke?
    Q: why did the toad go in the Sherman's trap?
    A: to get to the other side (?)
    LOL!! Cheers, val

  2. Toads are very endearing creatures. I was camping in Canada this summer and the mosquitoes were the worst I have ever experienced. I turned on my flashlight and saw a toad eat a mosquito. It did not help the horrendous overall situation, but it felt good to know that we had an ally.