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Strange noise heard at night may be endangered toad

| May 10, 2019

Retired biology teacher at Ridgewood High School, Dan Eggan, searches for the endangered Eastern Spadefoot Toad that, up until 2003, was thought to only exist in the southern part of the state. Eggan and his students made the discovery of the endangered toad while studying other amphibians in West Lafayette’s wetlands.

WEST LAFAYETTE – Residents in West Lafayette have been hearing strange noises in the spring and summer time after the sun goes down. While many may wonder what this ‘wharing’ noise is that sounds very much like the cawing of a young crow, Dan Eggan, retired Ridgewood High School biology teacher, believes he has the answer.

In 2003, after Ridgewood High School students moved into the new building on Johnson Road, Eggan and his class participated in an amphibian survey conducted by the National Wildlife Association where they encouraged residents who lived around wetlands to learn about the many frogs and other creatures living around their property and report any findings back to the association. One weekend, Eggan went over to a local wetland and discovered hundreds of frogs. That Monday, as his class was gathering eggs for a project, one student discovered a salamander. As Eggan explored the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) website to try to identify the salamander, he came upon a strange toad that was endangered in the state of Ohio, the Eastern Spadefoot Toad.

“I sent an email to ODNR and said that I had seen the Eastern Spadefoot Toad in Coshocton County,” said Eggan. “The next day, I received two emails, one from Caroline [Caldwell] and she told me that they were extremely rare and that she would send my email on to the state biologist. The second email I received was from the state biologist [Jeffrey Davis], and he said, no it can’t be the Eastern Spadefoot Toad. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I said, no I know what I’m looking at here.”

Davis traveled to Coshocton County to see what Eggan had seen that previous weekend, ready to dismiss it as a misidentification. However, that was not the case.

“He just couldn’t believe what we had,” said Eggan. “He called another biologist he was working with at 10:00 at night and told him, you won’t believe this. I’m standing in Coshocton County and they have Eastern Spadefoot Toads.”

Since that time, more Eastern Spadefoot Toads have been discovered in Port Washington and Athens County.

“If people knew what they were looking at and listening for, there might be a greater population in the state than what we originally thought,” said Eggan.

Out of this discovery came the Ridgewood Wetlands Association, which began in 2004 with the help of Bill Owens. At that time, the association received a grant that was affiliated through ODNR for $22,000 to help purchase seven acres of the wetland for research and study. This allows ODNR to preserve the land without ownership, which would involve a lot of government red tape.

The Eastern Spadefoot Toad is a desert species who have migrated east to the United States. They are very rare in Ohio and are considered endangered in the state.

“I think it’s important to mention they have probably been here way before we got here,” said Eggan. “There’s an account of a Moravian missionary here in the 1700s who wrote about seeing frogs and hearing the ‘wharing’ sound that they make. He said the frogs were so loud that he could hardly sleep. They’ve been here as long as we have and now that it’s been turned into an agricultural land, we’ve done nothing but increase their population by giving them more ground to dig into.”

Eastern Spadefoot Toads burrow into the ground during the day and emerge at night to breed in temporary pools. They breed from March through September and males emit that ‘wharing’ sound to entice the females to mate. However, these toads need very specific weather in which to mate.

“Because they are a desert species, they will only breed after a heavy pounding rain,” said Eggan. “It has to rain up to an inch and a half to two inches for them to mate. Because they are a desert species, they can only lay their eggs in temporary water.”

Eggs hatch within 48 hours and go from tadpole to toad within a week.

“That’s an amazing metamorphosis,” said Eggan. “They’ve got to get out of that pool before it dries up.”

Eggan said West Lafayette heavy rain a couple of years ago and within a couple of weeks, the village was infested with toads.

“What I want people to learn is that they are neighbors to really unique species,” said Eggan. “I would argue that we have the largest population in the state. Very few people who study these things get to see them. The biologist was just overwhelmed by how many tadpoles and toads we had. We not only have the largest, but the most watched in the state.”

The Eastern Spadefoot Toad is harmless and cannot burrow in your yard. However, they can burrow in flower beds. They are distinguishable by their olive green color, small red warts, a slit yellow pupil like a cat’s, and their black hook on the back of their feet that they use to dig.

“I want people to know what they’re living beside and how unique it is,” said Eggan. “This is what they’re hearing and they have a very unique sound from the other spring toads.”

Eggan said that Ohio wetlands are very important and should be maintained because 90 percent of endangered species in Ohio utilize wetlands.

If anyone would like more information on the Eastern Spadefoot Toad, contact Eggan at 740-545-9396 or visit ohiodnr.gov.

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Category: Education

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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