American toad breeding season seen through four videos

The American toad breeding season has come and gone in northeast Ohio. I spent part of one evening at a pond with over a hundred toads, and took a few videos. Many male toads were waiting on the edge of the pond for females to arrive. Other male toads were in the pond, making their loud, trilling call to attract females. Two other species of frog were calling that night. The spring peeper has a short, high-pitched “peep” noise. You can hear many spring peepers in the videos. The gray treefrog has a short trill sound. Only two or three gray treefrogs were calling, but you can hear their occasional calls in the background of some of the videos. Toad calls can be distinguished from both of these species because the toad calls have a faster trill that is of a higher pitch.

A male toad sat calling next to a spring peeper. I watched these two calling for a while, and they did not seem to pay any attention to each other. Eventually the male toad saw a female toad, and hopped past the peeper to reach her.

Two male toads spent several minutes calling near each other. You can tell that these two males are watching and responding to each other.

Male toads will fight with one another for the opportunity to mate with female toads. In this video, we see three male toads trying to mate with a female toad. The female is the largest toad on the very bottom of the toad pile. The successful male will end up in amplexus, a copulatory embrace in which the male clings to the female and fertilizes the eggs as she lays them. In the video, you can see how the males cling tightly to the female with their front legs, and use their hind legs to try to push away the other males.

Despite the chaos of the breeding season, pairs of males and females eventually successfully reproduce. In the video below, the pair of toads on the left is one such successful pair. At first glance, the pair of toads on the right also appears to be successfully mating. But a closer look reveals that the male toad is trying to mate with a dead female toad. Unfortunately mortality is common during the breeding season. During all of the fighting to mate, both male and female toads can end up drowned. Some toads have such a strong drive to mate that they appear to be unaware that partner is dead. Many other frogs show a similar overdeveloped drive to mate, such as this example of wood frogs trying to mate with tiger salamanders.

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