After a late blast of winter, spring is hopefully upon us and one of the most exciting signs of this change of season comes when our amphibian friends emerge from hibernation. After a long winter spent in a torpor buried under a log, leaves or the mud in the pond procreation is the name of the game. Firstly the frogs leap towards the pond and then usually a little later, toads crawl and hop to converge on favourite spots to spawn. Unless weather conditions have been particularly unusual this date can often be on or around the same day each year. Last year at our Stanmer pond the first toad was spotted on March 13th, will it be the same next week?
Females are quickly pounced upon by the smaller males desperate to mate and soon large clumps of frog spawn appear in the pond or in the case of toads, long strings of eggs wrapped around the pond weed. Thousands of eggs are laid as the chance of survival until adulthood is tiny. Predators come in all shapes and sizes from newts and dragonfly larvae eating tadpoles, foxes and badgers eating spawn and at our Stanmer site pond this year, a buzzard taking the pregnant female frogs.
Once spawning is over, the frogs and toads leave the ponds to return to dark, damp spots in the surrounding woods or gardens to hunt for insects and worms. Toads in particular are rarely found in the pond following the mating season and can often be discovered a fair distance away from water. As the spring develops, the newts begin their courtship and spawning which is a far more reserved and hidden affair compared to the blatant orgy of the frogs and toads! They lay individual eggs wrapped in pond weed and the adults will then spend far longer in the pond, helping themselves to the offspring of their fellow amphibians. Nature can be a cruel mistress….
Huw Morgan - Brighton & Hove Project officer - Sussex Wildlife Trust