Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nature Knows Best

I nearly stepped on a toad last night. And that got me thinking…

I love toads. Call me silly if you will, but I love frogs, too. One of the most anticipated heralds of spring is the sound of yearning and cajoling peepers echoing across the fields and bogs at The FARM. Every year the kids and I search the vernal pools and spring holes for the results of those cool weather rituals, and we keep a close watch on the beaded strings of toad eggs, and those more compact masses belonging to the frogs…watching and waiting for the pollywogs to emerge. We follow their progress as those tadpoles grow and develop legs, as they grow larger and lose their tails…until at last, those amphibians leave their liquid home to breathe air as we do–unfiltered through gills.

The best thing about toads and frogs, of course, is that they eat mosquitoes, black flies and midges.

I hate mosquitoes, black flies and midges.

As beneficial as our common, local species of frogs and toads are, though, I’ve recently been educated about a type of toad that is NOT beneficial. Nor, I’ve been told, is it loved.

Apparently, in the 1930’s, the Australian government imported cane toads from Hawaii in an attempt to biologically ‘manage’ the cane beetle. Of course, as is often the case, no one took the time to inform the cane toads of the duties they were required to perform. Nope, the buggers were just set down in a cane field and left to their own devices, much like letting children out to play at recess with no playground monitor. Any good parent could tell you the likely outcome…chaos would reign.

I’m not finding fault, here. Oh, no. For I almost made a similar mistake, once. When we first purchased The FARM, we talked constantly about digging a pond. Something good-sized that would allow us to swim on lazy summer afternoons. A pool that was large enough to encourage migrating Canadian geese to settle and raise their broods, and something to provide fire protection, too, as we are many miles from the nearest fire department. But such an undertaking was not only expensive; it involved a whole king-sized roll of red tape. LURC most likely would have to get involved, as well as the DEP, and maybe even the Army Corps of Engineers. It was a bit mind-boggling.

One evening, my husband voiced his thoughts aloud.

“You know what would be great? If we had a beaver or two move into the brook! They could build a dam and MAKE us a pond…and it wouldn’t cost us a cent!”

Well, I love making my husband’s every wish come true! And I had a bit of an advantage. As the daughter of a retired game warden, I knew several of those local game management experts! And so, the first time I ran into an old friend in uniform, I made my request.

“Dennis,” I said, “the next time you trap some beavers to relocate, can I have them?”

Dennis blinked at me in surprise. (Apparently, he thought the plural of beaver was beaver [much like moose and deer], and was in awe of my grasp of the English language as I added that ‘s’ to the word…)

“Well, yeah…I guess so…”

“Great!” I gave him a cheeky grin and thanked him. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband of my excellent work.

After supper that night, I sprung my surprise on Mr. Grumble.

“Hon, guess what I did! I got us some beavers!”

Another blink, another man who wasn’t up on the plural spellings of our local fauna.


“Beavers! Dennis is going to bring us some! We’ll have our very own pond in no time!”

I waited for the grin, the hug, the ‘Holy smokes, you are SOME kind of wife!’ But instead, I got a wrinkled brow and a cocked head.

“Karen?... How will you tell these beavers where we want our pond?”

“Huh?” It was my turn to sound sharp and intellectual.

“Well, what if these beavers decide to build right below the house? We’ll be flooded out! Or what if they choose to make their dam across the road and they block the culverts? That would wash the road out.”

Details, details! Why was he being so…


“I’m just saying, Karen…you can’t tell a beaver where to build his dam!”


“But, you said…” I whined.

It’s impossible to make these men happy. Simply impossible.

Chagrinned, I had to track down our local game warden–and fast–before he hauled his live traps over to Lexington Township. I had to explain to a grinning Dennis that I’d changed my mind. That I didn’t want any beavers. That I didn’t even want one single beaver! Because, after all, they do not follow instructions. Once they’re let loose in a new environment, they make their own decisions. They don’t give a dam what we foolish humans want them to do.

And I guess the same is true for the cane toad Down Under. Unlike our indigenous toads, though, the cane toad is poisonous. They are also picky eaters. They ignored those cane beetles and sought other, tastier treats. And in the meantime, they’ve wreaked havoc on many of the Aussies’ native animals, since ingesting the toads' poison is fatal.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. Nature knows best, and man (or woman) would do well to remember that. You can’t force a cane toad to eat a beetle, nor can you easily confine him to a cane field. You can’t make your pets leave them alone. And… you can’t tell a beaver where to build his dam.



  1. Can I comment on my own blog entry? I guess I have to, since I CAN'T FIGURE OUT HOW TO EDIT MY LAST ENTRY! I'm okay, guys...I'll get it eventually.

    Anyway, I just wanted to invite everyone to check out a hilarious short video (not intended for young viewers) sent to me by an Austrlian author and friend...I believe you can easily go to youtube and plug in 'Shaz and Baz' to see this. It will give you an idea of just how endearing the cane toad is to our mates Down Under.

  2. Um, I spelled Austrlian wrong...s/b Australian. Where's my proof-reader???