Loads of Toads

By Craig Douglas Idso and his father, Dr. Sherwood B. Idso

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    Are there any toads where you live? We have lots of them around our house. My dad works at a laboratory where they try to learn how to help farmers grow food better. Sometimes he takes my brothers and me on Saturday mornings out to see the fields he studies. There are long ditches that bring water to irrigate the crops, and sometimes they are full of tadpoles. We usually catch a few of them and bring them home with us. The first time we did this, we put them in an aquarium in our family room. They really liked it there—except for one thing. Our fighting fish bit off their tails and then ate them up!

    The next time we caught some tadpoles, we made sure we took the fighting fish out of the aquarium. Then the tadpoles lived just fine. One morning when we woke up, however, they were all gone; and in their places were some tiny toads. We rushed into Mom and Dad’s bedroom to tell them. They could hardly believe that the tadpoles had changed so fast.

    When the toads grew bigger, we let them live in our flower beds. They slept during the day and came out at night to catch insects on our lawn. In the winter they buried themselves in the ground and hibernated.

    Just a few weeks ago, my brother and I caught a really strange toad in our neighbor’s front yard. We showed it to Mom and Dad, and they said it was not really a toad at all, but a special kind of lizard often called a horned toad.

    We made a home for him by putting some sand in the bottom of an empty aquarium and setting it on top of the Ping Pong table outside on our back patio.

    My dad asked a friend of his who studies lizards what horned toads eat, and he found out that they like big red ants. We went over to a park by a school where there was a small hole in the ground that had hundreds of ants running in and out. The ants crawled up on sticks that we placed on the ground and then my brothers and I flicked them into a jar. Back home we dumped them into the horned toad’s aquarium. He sat very still. But whenever an ant came close to him, he would zip over and gobble it up. One day we fed him ten ants, the next day twenty, and the next day thirty. Not knowing how many ants he should eat, we decided twenty was about right.

    Our horned toad seems very happy, but we will probably let him go pretty soon. I think my dad wants to keep him though. Dad watches him a lot and has showed him to the Cub Scouts. Once he even put him in his coat pocket when he went home teaching. One of the families told Dad that they had some rattlesnake eggs. They handed him an envelope that was supposed to have the eggs inside, and when he opened it there was a trick paper clip wound on a rubber band that spun around and made a noise like a rattlesnake. My dad said he jumped and threw it on the floor, and everyone laughed. He had the last laugh, however, when he had them reach into his pocket and pull out the horned toad!

    Our family has really learned a lot from watching our horned toad. Every night just after the sun goes down, he burrows into the sand and goes to sleep. Then in the morning, he comes out and sits in the sum until he gets warm. During the afternoon he spends most of his time in the shade. You know, he’s a lot like me. Except I don’t eat ants!