If you spent any time at Lost Lake in August, you probably witnessed the incredible migration of tiny Western Toads. Maybe you helped move toads off the main trails (thank you!) or got to chat about the toads with a nature interpreter from the Whistler Museum. We had lots of questions about the toads and if you didn't get a chance to talk with us, here's what you missed.
Yes, every year the toad migration happens at Lost Lake. Eggs are laid in the wetland around April/May and migration happens July/August. The timing of the toads depends on temperature.
Yes, the toads migrate from the water where they were born to the forest where they like to hang out.
Yes, they really are the size of a dime when they first come out of the water and tough to see if you aren't walking carefully. The tiny toads are just babies, about four months old, and when they're adults they'll be about the size of a fist or bigger. They can live up to 11 years.
No, just because we see thousands of tiny toads migrating doesn't mean we have a healthy population. Female toads lay on average 12,000 eggs but less than one per cent will ever make it to be adults. The 60,000 or so tiny toads we've seen this year could have been produced by only five mama toads! Female toads need to reach four to five years old before they can lay eggs and some do it only once in their lifetime.
Yes, the toad migration was a little later this year than last, possibly due to the cool weather we had in July. Yes, it lasted for much longer than other years since the gap between the "first wave" (the biggest group) and the "second wave" (a much smaller group) was about three weeks apart, a bigger gap compared to other years.
No, they aren't frogs. At first glance toads and frogs can look very similar but where they live and how they act is quite different. Toads live on land; frogs live mostly in water. Since toads are the ones that need to get from where they were born (wetland) to where they hunt (land), they have developed a "safety in numbers" strategy. You would never see frogs migrating like this since they don't need to; it's also a reason why frogs lay much fewer eggs.
Yes, a big reason the toads are endangered is because of habitat destruction. They need water to breed, dryland for feeding and safe passage between. The habitats may still be there but if they are cut up with trails and roads there is no safe passage. Toads are a critical part of our ecosystem and without them it will degrade.
No, we're not protecting the toads only because they are endangered. While there are many reasons to protect them, we don't really need a reason. This isn't just a planet for people; it's a planet for all living things.
Yes, this is the first year that the Lost Lake road was closed to vehicles and such a large section of waterfront was closed to protect the largest migrating group. Yes, we agree that it's so awesome how Whistler protects its toads and values their role in our ecosystem!
Have you seen a toad somewhere other than Lost Lake? We would love to hear from you! To report sightings or if you have any toad or nature questions please email: DiscoverNature@WhistlerMuseum.org.
Kristina Swerhun coordinates the Whistler Museum's Discover Nature program and also volunteers with the Whistler Naturalists. The Naturalists are also looking for volunteers to help organize upcoming events and write Naturespeak articles. For more information please contact Kristina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Kristina Swerhun