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Raining Toads and Frogs

ByHelen Gage DeSoto

Asmy father drove the family car along what is now Park Street, we didn't notice anythingunusual, but when we drove into the forest to park at the foot of Oxbow Hill,the ground appeared to be jumping. There were thousands of tiny toads leapingback and forth, landing on low-growing plants and the rough bark of trees,slipping off bent down leaves, and springing up again. I was entranced. When Ibent down two or three would immediately come to rest on my palm where I couldexamine them. If they jumped off I could easily catch others.


They were perfectin every detail - a beautiful medium brown with complex dark markings,prominent eyes, visible pulse, splayed hind legs, and almost transparentminiscule feet. The biggest ones might have been half an inch long, but manywere smaller. What to my parents was a mysterious infestation was to me adelight; that is, until I realized that it wasn't possible to walk on the path,no matter how carefully without stepping on some of the creatures.


Later, walking tothe chain ferry, we saw that the road along the river was practically pavedwith squashed and dried toad bodies.


Thetown, however, appeared to be relatively free of the phenomenon in both itsactive phase and its residue. Even in the forest they disappeared within a fewdays, too many to survive in a place they were never intended to inhabit insuch number. Our few, harmless snakes must have enjoyed a feast.


The explanationtendered to my parents by more than one city father (names like Force, Newnham, Parrish, Heath) was thatthe toads had arrived in a powerful deluge. It had "rained frogs andtoads" only a couple of days before our arrival. The streets of Saugatuckhad been jumping as residents and business people frantically swept the scourgeoff their property. The fire truck, we were told, had been called into serviceto hose large numbers of the unwelcome visitors from the streets of town intothe Kalamazoo River.


It really happened,but fortunately only once

Inquiries toSociety naturalist John Legge, brought this reply.


"Here'swhat I learned from my friend Jim Harding, herpetologist at MSU:


I've witnessedthe same phenomenon. It happens when toad reproduction is limited to a veryshort "window" in springs, followed by sufficient rainfall and goodsurvival of tadpoles-which all metamorphose (turn from tadpoles into toads)at about the same time. The ground can literally be covered in little toadlets! Over in the dunes, it could be Fowler's Toads!


So, there youhave it. Makes sense to me. The 'raining toads' idea didn't make much sense tome, considering that weather pretty much comes from the west, hence from overLake Michigan, where ii would be unlikely to pick up any such animals."


The Gage cottage is on the west side ofthe Kalamazoo Rivernorth of Mt. Baldhead. Helen's brother, Jack saysthat he recalls that following the year of the toad infestation there was anincrease in the number of snakes seen on the hillside. They seemed to bewaiting expectantly.