Naturespeak 

What the Western Toad can tell us

It’s August and Lost Lake is mad from sunup to sundown with activity. Swimmers, dogs, joggers, hikers, cyclists, fisherman. Yet, people aren’t the only creatures who have taken a liking to Lost Lake, a population of Western Toad also calls this place home.

While not the most attractive of creatures, the Western Toad can tell us a great deal about the quality of our natural environment. Like most amphibians, these toads are indicator species. They are very sensitive to environmental change and, typically, wherever they are found, the quality of the water is considered good.

Western Toads lay their eggs as soon as the lake is free of ice. Lake water temperatures are barely above freezing. Adults will return to the same spot where they were born to reproduce. This is both good and bad. Once they like a spot it’s hard for them to change locales. This makes them extremely vulnerable to disturbance. Even if a location has changed dramatically, because of development, deforestation, etc., they will still lay their eggs exactly where they themselves hatched. Fortunately for the Lost Lake population, their preferred laying spot has remained in good condition over the last decade.

The toad’s eggs hatch fast and soon a very small section of Lost Lake is teaming with thousands of little black tadpoles. Come July the tadpoles are very active, venturing in schools to other parts of the lake. These creatures are very temperature dependent. They will flock to where the water is warmest. Unfortunately, these are usually the same places that people like, and all too frequently the tadpoles perish at the hands of those who chose to handle them, chase them with nets, and take them home in plastic buckets.

We know almost nothing about the Western Toad at Lost Lake but 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 year-long study is currently underway to learn more about this species.

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. 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.

Wendy Horan is a Graduate student with Royal Roads University who is studying the Western Toad. She would like everyone to know that nothing happens when you lick them. For more information contact wendy.horan@Community.RoyalRoads.ca

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