Attentive readers may recall that a little more than a month ago I returned from Toad Patrol with a picture on my camera that surprised me:I shot this on the front stoop of my neighbor Ted’s porch. Ted saw me with my flashlight in front of his house at about 10 p.m. and came out to chat. While we were talking, I noticed a small toad hopping along the cement step by my feet, so I stooped down quickly, snapped the picture, and continued our conversation. It was almost a reflex, and I certainly didn’t look very closely at what I was photographing. The next morning I was shocked to see a toad like I’d never seen before.
Here in Western NY state, pretty much all we have is Bufo americanus, the beloved American Toad. B. americanus is highly variable in coloration and pattern of spots and “warts.” But dark purple? Pink belly? Bright yellow feet? Jet black eyeballs? What kind of toad could this be?
I returned to Ted’s yard afterwards every every night around 10 p.m. hoping for another encounter. Toads can reappear nearby good hunting grounds (like under Ted’s porch light), but they also roam and I had no way of knowing how far this toad may be roaming. We had a couple of nights where the temperature dropped to around 35˚F. It wasn’t raining much. Also, Ted’s yard fronts a road that, while not especially busy, is the scene of daily amphibian traffic fatalities. And a Garter Snake was lurking around the front walk, fattening up for the coming winter.
It was against these odds that one rainy evening 12 days later I looked down and spied an especially dark toad about the size I was looking for. I scooped it up and was thrilled to be gazing into the obsidian marble eyes of Eugenia, the Black-Eyed Toad.
This is the name my 4 year old daughter has settled on, because the toad lives with us now. Eugenia (I don’t really know the animal’s sex) has spent the last couple of weeks settling in to a habitat we constructed as a family project in a 20 gallon aquarium tank. Quite nervous and timid at first, Eugenia seems to have now settled in to her new space, hopping out of the soil to enjoy a shower of water from a mister bottle or her daily meal of wood lice and earthworms.
I’ve never kept a toad for more than a couple of weeks at a time, let alone throughout the winter, so I’ve been consulting with My Friend the Biologist (MFtB) about how to keep our tenant healthy and happy. I plan to take many more photos this winter as she becomes more accustomed to being handled, as well as letting amphibian experts take a closer look to unravel the mystery of her beautiful and atypical color.
Melanism is a mutation common enough among most organisms. It’s a condition of extra pigment in an animal’s skin, fur, feathers, or scales. There are often one or two black furred Gray Squirrels in my neighborhood’s local population, and you can find beautiful melanistic variations of many animals online.
Below are a few early photos, shot quickly because people have been asking about this toad. You can see that quick snapshots show slightly different details depending on what kind of light they are shot in and how wet or dry Eugenia is. When I have time to set up more controlled shooting conditions, I will post more. For now I’m intrigued by her comparatively low “wartiness” and the way the pink color of her skin shows through the darker patches under certain lighting. Her eyes are the prettiest aspect of all – she has an apparently normal pupil, but the surrounding area normally filled with Bufo’s gorgeous gold and bronze filligree is simply a flat black color.
So far her behavior seems normal for Bufo americanus. She seems able to spot, pursue, and consume her prey with ease, and she’s an exceptionally strong hopper – stronger than many toads I meet in fact. She has a habit of moving about very quickly, leaping up onto high perches (tall stones, sticks, the rims of buckets) and clinging there in the balanced way reminiscent of treefrogs. A lovely amphibian to be sure, and I’m looking forward to getting to know her better with the help of MFtB.
Click the below photos for a closer view…