Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Everybody's Herpin' for the Weekend" or "Toadal Recall"

I'm currently sitting alone, bored at work, so I decided to shake the herping timeline I've been adhering to up a bit and throw a curve ball. I'm deviating from the timeline to talk about herping here at work. I like to live on the edge, I know. This one will be short(er) than the rest, as there's not much to tell.


I left my crappy job as IT Support at a bank in Philly to work at a data center in Norristown, PA. It's a good 20 minutes outside of the city, not counting traffic. This county (Montgomery) is actually where I hunt as well, so I know there are critters afoot! The shift is a night shift position, which means it sucks royal balls. However, that technically is prime herping time in the warmer weather. Although I don't get much free time while at work, I have managed to find some herpies (definitely need to come up with a better name for what I find) on the clock.

I started this job in the very beginning of September 2013, and some nights were still balmy and humid. The position I took when I first started required me to do hourly walkthroughs of the data center and facility, and in some cases, that meant I would be able to wander outside for a few minutes of fresh (sticky) air. My co-worker who trained me would take smoke breaks out back near the receiving/loading dock behind the building, so we would stand around back there and bullshit until he finished his cigarette. I, of course, much to his bewilderment, would be looking in the grass, in dark corners of the building, or just about anywhere for toads. Yes, toads. I had a feeling this place was loaded with my favorite herp (slightly better than "herpies" for a name) and I had a knack for finding them in the most precarious places. I've even found them around a Dunkin Donuts in the middle of South Philly. It's a gift. I AM THE MASTER AND COMMANDER OF TOADS.

Any old ways, my co-worker of course asked what I was doing. I told him flat out, and he told me that he does usually see them around outside. He also took smoke breaks out in front of the main building entrance, and he said there were HUGE ones around there. I was skeptical about the "hugeness" of the toads he claimed were milling around out front, even after my monster toad find near the Wissahickon. He even sized them up with his hand to show me how big the toads were. I wanted to see for myself. After a few days of searching, I found nothing. Was it already too late in the season? It wasn't cold, but it wasn't exactly toad-conducive weather. Then one night I kinda wasn't looking due to giving up, when I looked down and saw a small Fowler's toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) (...what? I'm trying to be studious by including the scientific name. Don't judge me.) I have caught tons of these little guys, but I was no less excited. My co-worker looked at me, confused at first, but then as I showed the toad to him, he was a little more interested. He also questioned how (moreover, WHY) I knew the exact species. I explained to him that I've always had an interest in them, and to stop fucking judging me, too. I snapped a picture (for just such an occasion as to showcase pointless herping stories online) and let him go into the grass near a tree stump. My faith in finding toads around work had been restored.

this was clearly an Instagram moment

The next night, something special happened. It was almost 90 degrees at night, hot, humid, and terribly uncomfortable. It was exponentially warmer than the previous few nights. I knew my luck would change. Out back on a walk-through cigarette break, in the very corner of the building sat another (and different) Fowler's toad. I picked it up and snapped another National Geographic worthy picture and put her ('twas a she) in my little traveling case that I keep in my trunk (I told you I was weird) and finished the walk-through. 

This is like the toad version of "Taken", except there's no toad-Liam Neeson to save me.
Afterwards, I went out to the main entrance parking lot to go put the tank back in the trunk and set my captive free, when I saw one: the mother of all toads. A large female American toad; she was enormous, just sitting in the parking lot, not really paying attention to anything. I mean, she was too big NOT to be lazy. I walked up to her and with little effort, scooped her up to inspect. It was another female, and she put up little resistance as I looked her over. I carried her in my hand, only to go a few more steps and see ANOTHER huge toad mama. Same deal for the most part, except this one was flatter and wider. She sat there, semi-gelatinous and doing an excellent Jabba the Hutt impression in the middle of the sidewalk. She could not have cared any less that I was approaching to snatch her up. She had no more fucks to give. Now I was juggling two softball-sized toads and an smaller one in a tank. Just as I made it to my car, there she was: the toad queen. Did I say the first one was the mother of all toads? Scratch that; THIS ONE was THE MOTHER OF ALL. Every toad I was finding got bigger and bigger and bigger. By the time I got to my car, I felt like I was carrying an armful of raw meat home from the butcher. I had toads for days. I was holding SO much toad at that moment. It was a herping miracle.

I certainly didn't expect to have such luck in one night. You would have thought I won a $1000 scratch-off ticket. After I placed them down, it was hard to keep them all stationary long enough to take another award-winning wildlife picture. They were surprisingly agile and nimble for fatty-fat fats....kinda like sumo wrestlers. I lined them up and took a picture displaying just how big these motherload toads were.

We're sexy and we know it.
The Fowler's toad on the right was maybe 3 inches. That goes to show you just how big these other slobbies were. The one on the far left, a.k.a. "Big Bertha" easily covered the palm of my hand with her toad rolls. The other two (from left to right), a.k.a. "Beulah" and "Maud" were almost as equally rotund. "Beulah" was the Jabba lookalike. I laughed at just how overly pudgy she was. She just plops herself down and gives in to gravity. I almost can hear her breathing heavily as she fights to catch her breath. They were all huge!

All fat jokes aside, these finds made me happy and kept me occupied on a boring, dragging night at work. Which is why I decided to revisit this evening's story. I'll definitely be exploring again for toads (and the like) once the weather breaks, and I've already planned on coming back out to Montgomery county on our hunting property on early spring nights to see what I can find. I'm getting excited just thinking about it.

Tuesday 9/10 & Wednesday 9/11 count:

Fowler's toad: 2
Eastern American toad: 3

P.S.: So you're interested in "gendering" American toads. How do I know how to do so, you ask? Well, hypothetical reader/literary device, I'm glad you asked. HOW I learned is trial and error, and reading way too many reptile and amphibian field guides growing up. So I learned from back then as a wee lad. It's fairly easy, and there are a number of ways to do it. First, the big three: throats, vocals, and forearms. Males usually have a dark or black colored throat, or at least a black patch on it. Females' throats are all white. Next is vocals. Females do not call at all (most toads actually "chirp"). If you see it call (it's throat/vocal sack will swell up as he does so), or it chirps when you pick it up and handle it, it's a male. Lastly, males usually have thick Popeye forearms with "nuptual" pads on their thumbs. These help the male grip the female when they're making pollywogs. So those are the rules of thumb. There are also some other ways to determine if your toad is a boy toad or a girl toad: females are typically bigger, fatter, and bumpier; males are typically smaller, slimmer, and smoother (this is why you need to moisturize and use the treadmill, ladies.) There you have it. Below is a video that is either considered toad foreplay, or a toad "how to pick up chicks" dating guide. Science! 


  1. Damn!! They are VERY sexy!!! Great post!

    1. thank you sir! I've seen big ones like that in NJ and VA, but never before last year had I seen all these monsters in PA.