The Very Endearing Common Toad (Bufu bufo)
If you are lucky enough to have ever witnessed a wild common toad hunting, you will understand what I mean when I say that they are pretty endearing creatures. They have an incredibly entertaining 'walking' style that never fails to make me laugh.
Towards the end of my trip to Slovenia, I encountered the most gorgeous common toad specimen. As I was not actively searching for this species, it was a really nice surprise - mostly because the encounter reminded me just how much I enjoy observing them.
The toad showed up in the garden of the place where we were staying. It had rained quite a lot during the day and by 8:30 that evening, the garden looked like a slug & snail fest. The toad was too busy hunting snails and slugs to realise that I had already spotted it and was close enough to pick it up without much effort... not that common toads are difficult to capture under normal circumstances but it makes for a nice tale.
Not long after I picked it up, the toad (understandably frightened) released water from its water bladder. This prompted my surprised (and slightly disgusted) husband to jump three feet away from me and say 'Oh no, it's peed on you'. This defense mechanism is fairly common and although it isn't exactly the same as actual urine, the 'peeing on you' seems like the easiest way to explain it.
You will notice in these two photographs (sorry for the bad quality!) that I am wearing gloves to handle the toad. Let me firstly clear things up - you CANNOT get warts from handling toads (yes, some people really do ask that question). The real reason I am wearing gloves is to protect the toad from any harmful chemicals I most likely had on my hands and NOT to protect myself. As I mentioned before, the encounter was a surprise and although you cannot see it in the photographs, I was pretty sunburnt. I knew that my hands were covered in body lotion and, as amphibians have permeable skin, in order to protect the little toad, I put on the first pair of gloves that I could find. Obviously, they weren't the best fit but they did the trick.
A curious fact about the common toad is that they can actually secret large amounts of a distasteful white substance from their skin when threatened - although this doesn't seem to affect some predators such as Grass Snakes. Their eggs and tadpoles are also thought to be distasteful - a fact that is believed to contribute to its successful survival rate when compared to other amphibian species. It is also likely to somewhat explain the wide range of locations in which the species can be found.
Unfortunately, this species tends to be attacked by Flesh Flies (Lucilia bufonivora) - its latin name is certainly a clue! The fly lays its eggs on the toad's skin and once the eggs hatch, the little maggots will often enter the toad's body via its nose and eat the toad from within. Quite the image huh?!
On a lighter note, the good news is that this species is not very difficult to find. If you are in the UK, depending on where you live, you can even encounter it in your own garden! If you go looking for them, try and remember a couple of important things: 1) Common Toads are nocturnal! 2) Record your sightings!