Back in late February, Hunter encountered an Eastern Spadefoot Toad crossing a rural Sandhills byway. It appeared to have just emerged from a muddy winter hideaway, probably drawn forth a bit prematurely by the unseasonably warm, wet weather. On that occasion, we neither saw nor heard any more of its kin in the immediate vicinity.
Fast forward to last night. Mid-April, 3 hours of steady evening showers and thunderstorms. Temperatures around 68 degrees (F). The same stretch of rural blacktop.
There, on the warm, wet pavement, no less than three eastern spadefoot toads in a ten foot expanse. Slow the car, listen. From the dark ditches comes a discordant din of nasal "wanks" as dozens of spadefoots congregate in the warm rainwater.
As we discovered in February, the spadefoot derives its name from specially adapted pads on its hind feet which allow it to burrow rapidly into the sandy soil of its preferred lowland habitat. Tonight however, the lonely subterranean dens have been abandoned for the communal breeding pond provided by the evening's heavy downpour.
Driven by instincts eons in the making, and guided by the calls of the males, the sandhills spadefoots gather to perpetuate their species. Dozens are here already, with others arriving by the moment.
The warm water is cloudy with pollen and adrift with debris brought down by the gusty winds of the storm, but the toads aren't complaining. Spadefoots are thought to skip some breeding years entirely, if the April rains don't come timely and in sufficient quantities, so tonight's event is not to be missed, lest no similar opportunity present itself this year.
Because of the ephemeral nature of the breeding pools, the eggs and tadpoles will mature rapidly, and the next generation should be afoot in less than a month.
The utter darkness, the chaos of the storm and the incessant calls of the males, repeated urgently with intervals of a couple of seconds or so, add layers to the experience which are simply impossible to convey with photographs alone. Here's a tiny snippet (the boys promise to teach me to use the iPhone properly before next time)!
The male pictured below seems intent upon unseating his rival, already grappling with a female in the lower right of the picture, with the sheer volume of his calls.
His white throat balloons dramatically as he channels nature's call and strives for the opportunity to perpetuate his genetic line.
All around the pool, the same scene plays out, as more players enter the stage from every direction.
Sheltered in our homes, glued to the screen, we hang on the words of the forecasters, hopeful that the storm will quickly pass and spare us. Outside, in the pouring rain and driving winds, amidst the swirling waters of the debris-laden ditches, the eastern spadefoots embrace the moment.
And life goes on...