Teeny, tiny, timid tot of a toad

I’ve been traveling across the southeastern U.S. for the past couple of weeks, during which time I had a chance to go polypipin’ at several of my destinations! For those of you who don’t know what polypipin’ is, it’s when you look for stuff under polypipe. What is polypipe? It’s a big tube of plastic with holes in it that farmers lay across one end of their field and then pump water into. The water leaks out of the holes and runs down the furrows between the rows, irrigating the crops. This is a popular method of irrigation in the Mississippi Delta because the super flat terrain allows the fields to be easily graded for such at much lower cost than the center pivot irrigation systems that are more often used in the rolling terrain of the Midwest and other areas. An unexpected side benefit of polypipe irrigation (at least for naturalist nerds like me) is that insects and all other manner of critters find the ground under polypipe to be a great place to hide. In a stroke of genius, friend and colleague Kent Fothergill used polypipin’ to confirm that Tetracha carolina (Carolina metallic tiger beetle), was not only a resident of the Mississippi Lowlands in southeast Missouri (there was some question as to whether the few existing records from that area represented vagrant individuals), but well established and abundant throughout the region (Fothergill et al. 2011). Ever since then I’ve gone polypipin’ whenever the opportunity presented itself, usually with good results.

Teeny tiny toad

Juvenile toad, but which one? | Starkville, Mississippi

This little toad was photographed in Starkville, Mississippi, where I had visited a soybean field and found polypipe stretched all along the north end of the field. He was clearly annoyed at being suddenly exposed to daylight when I lifted up the polypipe and immediately hopped over to the edge that was still contacting the ground and tried to crawl back in, but I can be persistent and finally ‘persuaded’ him to come back out and pose for this one shot before I felt sorry for him and let him finish his escape. This was one of the tiniest toads I’ve ever seen—no more than 2.5 cm snout to butt, and not being as well-versed in herps as I am in hexapods I didn’t really know what kind of toad he represented. Apparently there are a few different species in Mississippi, but the most common is Fowler’s toad (Bufo fowleri). Its size surely suggests it is a juvenile, which can be notoriously difficult to identify due to their still undeveloped cranial ridges and coloration. Considering the agricultural setting and location in northeastern Mississippi I think this is probably the most likely choice.

REFERENCE:

Fothergill, K., C. B. Cross, K. V. Tindall, T. C. MacRae and C. R. Brown. 2011. Tetracha carolina L. (Coleoptera: Cicindelidae) associated with polypipe irrigation systems in southeastern Missouri agricultural lands. CICINDELA 43(3):45–58.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2013

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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9 Responses to Teeny, tiny, timid tot of a toad

  1. shotgunner says:

    Hi ted;

    I emailed you thru the contact form on the blog. I can help ID that specimen. Something ain’t right.

    2.5cm specimen is a few months post metamorphosis. Males can breed at 2″! New metamorph toadlets are less than 1cm when they emerge onto land.

    The color isn’t right – this might could be a color/pattern mutation. I emailed for more views of this specimen.

    • Hi shotgunner – sorry, I didn’t get any other shots of the little guy. I didn’t notice any markings on the dorsum, and I didn’t get a look at the belly. I can’t say I’ve seen anything like it before.

      • shotgunner says:

        That toad is a very nice find for two reasons.

        #1 it seems to have a mutation we would call “patternless” in the herp trade I retired from 3 years ago. The grey patch on the snout seems to show up in “patternless” animals.

        and

        #2) you found a juvenile toad. Nobody finds juveniles. It is indeed rare to find juvenile specimens of almost all anurans. It isn’t rare at all to find newly metamorphosed ones and of course we all see the adults. Juvies are a rare treat! Even if you are off by 50% and the toad is 1.2cm it is still juvie. A new metamorth is at most 8mm and most often 5mm or so.

        Without being able to see pattern and lacking a look at the parotid glands, I am afraid we cannot ID that individual with surety. There are three most likely species. Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris), Fowler’s (Bufo fowleri) and Gulf Coast Toad (Bufo nebulifer).

        I found some very nice images of all three here: http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/events/docs/science.cafe.presentation.shelton.032613.pdf

        Careful viewing seems to confirm your instinctive ID of Fowler’s Toad. This due to snout shape and skin texture. Have a look!

        I am sticking with Bufo for these very similar species. Splitters seemed to have mixed it up a bit. I am sure you have similar (or even reversed) issues in the world of hexapods!

        • Thanks, shotgunner – very interesting! I’m inclined to believe it was actually smaller than the 2.5 cm I guessed, but certainly not as small as the size you give for new metamorphs. Pretty cool to know I was looking at something rather special, if only after the fact I was aware of it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am thinking more along the lines of a cricket frog–although they are tree frogs, they have a warty appearance. It is lighter and yellower than others I have seen, but that could be normal given where it was found. The size would better fit cricket frog.

    Harlan Ratcliff

  3. I am still not convinced it is Bufo, just from this photo. Are you sure the hind foot is not webbed, based on this photo? I also think the perspective of the photo makes the snout look shorter than the actual specimen had.
    That being said, I am not 100% sold on cricket frog either, although it seems closer to me.

    Harlan Ratcliff

    • I looked at the little bugger in addition to photographing it. I’m pretty sure the photo gives a realistic perspective of snout shape, leg length, foot webbing, etc., but of course the only way to be sure is with a specimen in hand. I’ve seen lots of tiny frogs in my day, but there was no question in my mind when I saw this one that it was a toad of some type.

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