As NCF staff worked together to weed the native plant garden at our office on Cliff Rd in mid-July, we were greeted by a most unexpected visitor – Maeve Kelley, one of our seasonal field assistants, found a Fowler’s Toad hunkered down in the mulch underneath an beach plum shrub. To the best of our knowledge, Fowler’s Toads hadn’t been seen on Nantucket since the 60s or 70s so the presence of one now was certainly a surprise, and a bit of a happy mystery. It’s very unlikely (though not impossible!) that a remnant population has escaped notice for this long, so our best guess is that this little guy hitch-hiked his way to the island through landscaping materials. The world may never know the exact circumstances of how Mr. Toad landed on our office lawn, but we can’t say we’re sorry about it. We all love toads and would be thrilled to have a population re-established on Nantucket.
According to Skip Lazell in his book This Broken Archipelago, Fowler’s Toads were once extremely abundant across Nantucket prior to World War II but populations were completely eradicated from the Island by heavy spraying of insecticides, including and especially DDT, in the 40s – 60s. This is likely the reason we no longer have Spadefoot Toads either. Tuckernuck and Muskeget were doused as well, which is especially sad as according to Lazell, Muskeget toads had unusual coloration patterns and bone structures. Perhaps like the Muskeget vole, these toads may have been a unique subspecies known to inhabit only this one tiny island. Relentless spraying of pesticides was conducted for mosquito control but in the wake, toads, voracious insect eaters, were taken down as well. The mosquitos live on though, of course.
Fowler’s Toads can be difficult to distinguish from another common amphibian, the American Toad. They look quite similar but Fowler’s Toads tend to have large dark blotches on their back with 3-4 warts per blotch, whereas American Toads have small blotches with only one relatively large wart. Fowler’s have plain white bellies with some black flecks where American’s tend to have heavy dark coloration all over the belly and chest. All of these features are variable on both species though and to add to the confusion, they frequently hybridize! So, it can be quite difficult to say for sure which species you have. However, the habitat type can be indicative and aid in species identification. Fowler’s Toads are most often found in areas with open vegetation and sandy soils and American Toads prefer forests. Their calls and voices are distinct – Fowler’s have a bleating type of call and breed later in the spring, while American Toads breed earlier and can be heard trilling. Next spring, we hope to give a listen in nearby wetlands to see if we might have some breeding toads! We can hope.
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