Cute and not well understood

Whistler Naturalists

They’re brown, covered in warts, and possess a face only a mother could love. The Western Toad ( Bufo boreas ) doesn’t always sit at the top of the glamour list in the animal kingdom. However, this amphibian is important because it can tell us a lot about the overall health of the natural environment.

Lost Lake Park is a favourite destination for many. With its all-season appeal, this park is heavily used throughout the year. Yet, Lost Lake is also special because it supports a population of Western Toads. The presence of the toads suggests that the quality of the habitat is good and so is the quality of the water. Unfortunately, very little is known about the population of toads at Lost Lake. Thanks to the generosity of the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW), the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) a study is currently underway to learn more about the species, with the goal of better protecting it.

Western Toads are considered to be "explosive breeders". In Whistler, adults breed in late April, just as the snow is disappearing. Females lay between 5,000 and 15,000 eggs at a time, which then take three to 11 days to mature. The tadpoles that emerge are very small, around 5 mm, but they develop very fast, eventually turning into toadlets after about three months.

As youngsters, these toads will spend most of there time congregated in huge masses, sometimes numbering into the thousands. Tadpoles will often form huge black clouds in the water. However, these numbers are deceiving. Ninety per cent will not make it to adulthood. While it is tempting for many to catch and take these tadpoles home to observe the process of metamorphosis (tadpoles developing into toadlets), it is important that we leave them in their natural habitat and observe them only from shore. Like many amphibians around the world, Western Toads are disappearing across their former range, so it is important that we treat the Lost Lake population with care. The research currently being conducted at Lost Lake will be critical for better understanding the population with the hope of protecting them for future generations to appreciate.

Wendy Horan is a Graduate student with Royal Roads University who actually thinks the toads are cute.

Upcoming events

Enviro Fest and Whistler Naturalists present: Wild Things Scavenger Hunt. Kids of all ages will meet Cara Richard, the naturalist at the Lost Lake Concession, at 10 a.m. on Saturday June 10 th , 2006. This is a great way to learn about the plants and animals that live in our backyards! Rain or Shine!


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