Whistler2020 on the Ground 

The delicate sound of tiny toads not being squished

click to enlarge Toad Span Workers construct a footbridge to protect toads
  • Toad Span Workers construct a footbridge to protect toads

We’re now well into the dog days of summer, the hottest, sultriest time of year when legions of shadeseekers and sunworshippers head to our local lakes and parks for a dip and a nap. But as you stroll or roll out to Lost Lake, watch your step… no one wants to preface a swim in the lake with the inadvertent destruction of baby toads.

Around Lost Lake this time of the year would be better referred to as the Toad Days of August as the Valley Trail becomes a veritable toad road as miniature Western Toads make the miraculous transformation from lakebound tadpole (swimmer) to forest dweller (hiker). In this phase of its life the juvenile toad is known as a “metamorph.” Although the Western Toad ( Bufo boreas ) may not be the cutest species using the Valley Trail this summer, it is a valuable indicator regarding the overall health of Whistler’s ecosystem and biodiversity, and the presence of Western Toads indicates good water quality.

To better help understand Whistler’s Western Toad, the Community Foundation of Whistler, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and AWARE supported a one year long research project to learn more about the Lost Lake population. Researcher Wendy Horan worked to identify migration trends so efforts can be made in the future to help metamorphs migrate with greater ease.

“Freshly emerged from tadpole phase, the toads are tiny, usually no bigger than a quarter, and therefore often difficult to see until it is too late. However, in their congregations it will appear as though the ground is moving. Remember the saying "there’s safety in numbers"? The Western Toad has this nailed down. By moving across the landscape in large masses more survive into adulthood,” Horan wrote as part of her research.

With the metamorphs most likely emerging from Lost Lake this week, the tiny toads will be moving across the Valley Trail to enter the forest for their next life phase. Dedicated volunteers and RMOW staff joined the Whistler-Blackcomb Habitat Improvement Team (HIT) this past Tuesday to locate where the western toads were migrating and worked to build a temporary toadlet underpass to allow hikers and bikers to continue to use the trail system without trampling toads.

In general, the toad is decreasing across its range and it is important to acquire as much information as possible to, hopefully, protect the amphibian and reverse the trend as offspring return to the exact spot they hatched to lay their eggs. B.C. is now the centre of the Western Toads North American range as copious habitat disruption in the U.S. has apparently thrown the population there into a tailspin. It’s equally important to remember to appreciate the toad and its offspring from a distance. Only then will the species have a chance of surviving into the near future. These toadlets grow to maturity in two to three years, and may live 10 years or more.


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