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  • Writer's pictureIsaac yelchin

Too Dry even for Toads

Although we were lucky this year to have a couple good rainstorms, the constant scorching of the land leaves California still in a drought. Our water supplies are low across the state causing unrest for the farmers and vintners from Napa Valley to the strawberry farmers in Ventura. Driving through the 101 freeway or along the 5, you can see dust storms swirling up across the road as the dry Santa Ana winds blow the loose earth into the air.

California Toad out on a rare rainy night in Topanga California

The animals are taking the brunt of this drought much harder than us humans with our pipes, pumps, and hoses. We can siphon water out of animal’s environments with the push of a button to make sure that our showers run and our lawns stay bright green. Drought is somewhat natural to this part of the world. Sitting about 35 degrees above the equator we are outside of the tropical range, but still receive lots of sunlight.

Creek in Ventura California running low on water

The sunlight is so harsh at the equator that it torches the ocean and forces it to evaporate rapidly, creating constant humidity and rainstorms in the atmosphere. Whereas in Southern California, it only evaporates enough water for the occasional fog and light rain, but still scorches our mountains and valleys regularly. So the drought is somewhat natural, yet, we are not helping the land's plight by gulping down every last drop of fresh water.

Another dry portion of the creek in Ventura

Many of the rivers and creeks throughout the state are diverted to fit our needs. The LA river for example is channelized between concrete levees. Without any human interference this river would stretch wide and be sidelined by luscious riparian habitat and host almost every species in the ecosystem. It could act as a valuable resource for the many insects that rely on water to breed, and for the mountain lions to come lap up a drink. But with the concrete channel the creek has no natural curves and eddies, and creates few, if any, slow moving side pockets that allow insects or amphibians to breed and grow their young. Of course, the mountain lion cannot hop on the 405, nor even take side streets from its limited range in the parcels of nature we have left untouched.

The California toad might be searching for an insect snack, or maybe a mate

However, there are still some few lasting creeks and rivers throughout the state that are almost completely natural. It seems harsh but like all animals we need water to survive, so it makes sense why we put ourselves in this current situation. We are taking efforts to remedy our needs with the needs of the planet, and will hopefully soon reach a happy medium.

A healthy portion of the creek filled to the top with tadpoles, some pockets filled with so many tadpoles it almost looks like a black liquid

Until then I want to highlight a creature who is already adapted to extreme drought, yet still suffered the consequences of this particular dry season. The California toad is an amphibian just like salamanders and frogs, however being a toad, it has a higher tolerance for dry climates. It can survive with less water than most other amphibians and this allows it to generally thrive in Southern California.

Short video showing the California Toads eggmass

The California toad has a distinct egg laying pattern as you can see. The male courts the female by calling in a funny chatter while in a pool or slow moving section of creek. The male with the best call (this is subjective to the females), gets the mate, and climbs onto her back. He locks his legs around her and then fertilizes the eggs that she releases.

Which pool would you lay your eggs in if you were a toad ?

It is easy to tell the eggs of the California toads apart from other amphibians because of the long strands they come in. Whereas eggs of most frogs and other toads come in larger clumps. Once these eggs hatch however, identifying tadpoles can be quite the task since they are all incredibly tiny during the first few weeks.

Some tadpoles that were able to hatch and have the water and food needed to survive

Picking which pool to lay the eggs in is critical for survival of the toads offspring as the eggs and tadpoles need to be fully submerged to complete their metamorphosis into toadlets. So if the eggs are laid in the wrong pool and it dries up, you can have a pretty depressing scene.

Dried up toad eggmass laid in the wrong pool

The drought doesn’t just effect the young toads, it can even be so hot it catches an adult off guard and the brutal sun can dry them out. Thankfully there were a few tadpoles and egg masses laid in big full pools that will most likely survive to metamorphosize and have a chance at being an adult toad!

The unlucky adult toad, dried up.

Please keep all the little and big creatures that live in our wilderness in mind and try your best to conserve water. Because unlike us, the toads, the hawks, and the mountain lions cannot just turn on the tap.

All photos and videos taken by Isaac Yelchin

Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.

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