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A Jump in Toad Sightings

Wet weather brings record number of Great Plains Toads

In 1983, one year after publishing The Amphibians and Reptiles of Manitoba, Bill Preston, then curator of herpetology and ichthyology at the Museum of Man and Nature, heard a Great Plains toad for the first time in Manitoba. "It has a pulsating, metallic trill that's quite different from any of the other frog calls,"

According to Manitoba Conservation Data Centre zoologist Jim Duncan, less than a dozen known occurrences have been mapped for the toad in Manitoba - until 1999. Heavy rainfalls in spring and early summer in southern Manitoba that year have resulted in 40 additional sightings of these blotchy, olive-colored toads that have prickly looking skin. "We've had more sightings of breeding toads identified this year than any other," Duncan said. The Great Plains toad is an irruptive breeder, meaning it does not breed on an annual cycle.

"These toads breed only after heavy and violent rain," Preston said. "They carry on calling some time after, up to three or four weeks." Ken DeSmet, endangered species biologist with Manitoba Natural Resources, first heard the toads calling the evening of May 15 while at his home near Melita in southwestern Manitoba.

"I was surprised when I heard them," DeSmet said. He had spoken with Preston and didn't anticipate hearing the toads until the weather had warmed up. "I could heard these calls so I raced out in the truck and there were a whole pile of them."

The toads are adapted to the broad expanses of prairie habitats and according to Preston, their calls can be heard up to four kilometres away. Preston said the toads have probably always been in the area, but just haven't announced their presence with calls. They can spend weeks at a time underground during dry conditions. Despite recent sightings, the Great Plains toad will remain a species of concern in the province.

"While it appears the toad is more abundant than previously thought, it still warrants close attention due to its limited range in Manitoba," Duncan said. The Great Plains toad was recently listed nationally as Vulnerable by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Other Manitoba species assessed and listed for the first time this year include the Yellow Rail (designated as vulnerable), a small ground-dwelling marsh bird that is threatened primarily by wetland drainage, and Sprague's pipit (designated threatened), a grassland bird that breeds in southern Manitoba and is threatened by overgrazing and occasional brown-headed cowbird nest parasitism.

- reproduced with permission from the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre Newsletter