In Arizona, the Sonoran Desert Toad Incilius alvarius is still rather common. Our two neighbors, CA and NM list them as threatened. I am rather certain that our AZ population is declining as well. Among the reasons of course are habitat loss and our on-going drought.
|Red-spotted Toad Anaxyrus punctatus , Woodhouse's Toad Anaxyrus woodhousii, Couch's Spadefoot Scaphiopus couchii
|Sonoran Desert Toads Incilius alvarius, mating in Sabino Creek Photo Ned Harris
I think that one adaptation of Incilius alvarius might be in its potential longevity - defined as the long lifespan of the individual. Maybe they are simply able to wait for years until conditions get better. At that time they may be able to produce a new generation of offspring that can outlast the next period of drought. Saguaro procreation follows that pattern, why not, on a smaller scale, SDT procreation?
While I have not tried to mark any of our toads for individual recognition, I have photographed them often and believe that I can recognize several individuals. I'm rather certain that I have seen about 4 individual toads each summer since I started watching them at our porch lights in 2007. They were already fully grown at that time. Longevity in toads is not impossible. In Germany I raised Bufo bufo in my aquaterrarium while I was still in high school. When I left for my postdoc time in Norway, I first had to find a home for a couple of those toads, then 14 years old.
Here in our yard in Arizona, the over-all number of individuals has been declining over time. Since 2007 I found only one less-than-fist-sized juvenile. It's in the picture above. The adult toads are sometimes rescued from swimming pools, but I have never heard of any swimming pool tadpoles. There has not been any lasting natural pond here for years, so I don't know where he's been hatched.
Animals that are short-lived usually breed copiously and fall victim to predators easily.
Long-lived species need to protect themselves against predation to reach their full potential. So the evolution of individual longevity usually includes some potent defense against predation. The primary defense of the Sonoran Desert Toad is a milky fluid produced in skin glands, the most obvious one being the bulging, kidney-shaped paratoid gland. The exudant of these glands is a potent cocktail of toxins, among them:
5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) is a psychedelic of the tryptamine class.
Bufotenin (5-HO-DMT, N,N-dimethylserotonin, bufotenine) is a tryptamine related to the neurotransmitter serotonin
digoxin-like cardiac glycosides
If ingested by a potential predator, the milky juice causes a series of reactions:
Excessive salivation or foaming at the mouth, pawing at the mouth, head shaking, red or irritated gums, drunken gait, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness or complete collapse, heart arrhythmia. Death can occur by respiratory arrest.
So especially for small dogs, the experience can be lethal. Seizures and death can occur within 30 minutes. Before veterinary help can be reached a vigorous mouth rinse from a water hose may be the best first aid.
Like most defensive weapons, the toad toxins seem to come with a warning: the strongly irritating effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth (as well as the mouthwash applied by the terrified owner) probably warns most dogs and should keep them from repeating the experience.
|Cody, surveying his realm
But Cody should have gone to rehab. For three more years, he indulged his addiction: in early June, just once, he would show up bushy-tailed and shiny-eyed and aroused by any fence post. He never went through breathing and arrhythmia again - he had learned to dose his drug. We did find a dead toad after one of his orgies. But Cody got over it. He just stopped. When the fourth June arrived Cody completely ignored the toads.
|Bilbo, ignoring a toad
|After I rescued the toad from the dogs tub, Mecki had to be coaxed to come this close
|Mecki pulls back into a more comfortable distance. Bilbo checks on us but looses interest right away. Laika, visible over my right shoulder, never bothered to get up.
It helps to learn about the behavior of the toads. They are hidden underground during winter and spring months but they begin to emerge in June, weeks before the first monsoon storms can be expected. Night active, they feed mostly on insects up to the size of a Palo Verde Beetle. In their large scats, wings of June Beetles and whole abdomens of Pinacate Beetles dominate. Desert Toads quickly learn to hunt under porch lights where their prey bugs congregate.
|Nightly pool party in our neighbors' bird bath. These are Red-spotted Toads
|Sonoran Desert Toads, June 2008 in our front yard
For dog owners, that's where supervision and maybe interference are most necessary. And if someone is convinced that his yard is his property and it's his right to do everything to protect his beloved pets, he should consider this: it's impossible to kill, transplant or exclude every last snake or toad. It's nearly impossible to seal your yard against determined desert creatures that dig and climb surprisingly well. So you better have your dog under control for that unexpected one that will eventually try to reclaim your yard as its territory.