Reptiles And Amphibians

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Touch a toad and you'll get warts, right? Wrong! Most toads look as if they have warts, but they don't give them. Touch a toad and you'll find a friend, right? Maybe! Toads can become very tame.  

Touch a toad if you can. But touch it gently. If a toad becomes frightened, glands in its skin may ooze a milky juice which is poisonous to most animals if they swallow it. This poison saves toads from enemies, for toads cannot hop away as fast as their frog cousins can.

Some enemies don't seem to be bothered by a toad's poison, so they have other tricks to try. For example, a toad can puff up until it's too big to swallow. Hiding is another toad trick. It blends in with its surroundings and can even change color. Many toads burrow in soft dirt when danger threatens, digging backward with their hind legs. Toads may also protect themselves by simply playing dead.

Toads are amphibians. The word amphibian means "double life," and that's exactly the kind of life toads have. They live the first part of their life in water and the rest on land.

All during this "first life" in the water, tadpoles slowly change into land animals. The change is called metamorphosis. Some toads change in ten to twelve days. Others take a full year. The first signs of change are two bumps that appear near the tadpole's tail. The stumps slowly grow into hind legs. Soon the front legs appear in the same way. The tadpole swims with its back legs now, as its tail begins to shrink. Finally a little four-legged animal crawls from the water, dragging its tiny tail behind. It has lost its gills and has grown lungs for breathing air. It has lost its teeth and its taste for plants. Its nibbling mouth has changed to a wide, snapping one. The young toad has also grown a long, sticky tongue for catching insects and other small animals. The toad's tongue is fastened at the front of its mouth, instead of the back like the tongues of most animals. When the toad strikes, its mouth opens and the tongue flicks out faster than our eyes can follow it. The tongue whips back and flicks the catch into the toad's mouth. As the toad grows, its tail gets smaller and smaller until it disappears. At night, when the air is moist and the ground is damp, young toads leave their ponds and scatter over the countryside. Sometimes they leave in daylight during a warm day. So many can appear suddenly in one place that people used to think it had "rained" toads. Most toads make their homes in woods or fields or gardens. They live anywhere they can find plenty of food and the cool, damp hiding places that suit them best. Young toads grow quickly during warm weather but their skin doesn't. So every few weeks a young toad must shed its skin. It pulls off the old skin much as you pull off a sweater. Then it eats it. The new skin underneath is shiny and clean. Once on land, most toads stay there the rest of their lives. They hop back to the water only to start a new family. Sitting at the edge of a pond or stream, the males puff out their vocal sacs and sing for mates. There are more than 200 different kinds of true toads in the world, and each kind sings its own songs. Some grunt, some chirp like crickets, and some cheep like baby chickens. Some female toads don't sing. They hear the males' calls and come to the pond to mate. As they lay long strings of jelly-covered eggs, the males fertilize them. Even small toads may lay thousands of eggs at a time. Of all the eggs that are laid, only a few survive to become adult toads but those few can be a great help to people. Many gardeners and farmers know that each toad kills plenty of insects - up to 10,000 in one summer! Although they eat some "good" insects as well as the "bad" ones, toads are always welcome in a garden.


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