Guidelines for Monitoring and Rescueing Toads


Your safety is paramount at all times. You are of no use to toads about to be run over by cars if you have been run over by a car. Be very careful when stopping or parking your car. Take care when opening your car door and leaving your car. In the road, remember that conditions are dangerous and cars may not easily be able to stop. Ensure that you are visible at all times and that your actions can be predicted by motorists. It helps to work in groups.

Do a few practice runs during good weather, even during the day. These are not useless as you will find some toads feeding (very useful data: practice photographing them, and put them back where you found them) and squashed toads will alert you to areas that need attention. Remember to log your hours and fill in a summary form, even if you saw nothing: no toads is not "no data" and helps to define the breeding season.

Road work

Your primary purpose as a volunteer is to save toads that might be killed by motorists. This is the most important task. Recording data is secondary, but very important for planning for next year, for studying long-term trends in population numbers and for future funding.

There are several levels of data. At the coursest level we need to know how many toads were killed. Better still if we also know how many survived. And, of course, how many you rescued.

Not all toads need rescuing. For instance, those already across the road, or those on the safe side of the road. There is no need to pretend to rescue them. But if things are quiet, or there are enough volunteers, we can get useful information out of them.

The next level of data is to sex the toads: male or female?

MALES have dark throats (calling stretches the throat, and black pigments help protect the skin when it inflates; this may not be so marked on young males), robust fore limbs with callosities (these grip onto the females allowing males to ride piggyback), and give a "release" call if gripped behind the front legs (a "let-go-of-me-mate:_I'm_also_male" call, to tell other males not to waste their time). Useful to know, but of no use in sexing, is that on average males are slightly smaller than females.

FEMALES have pale throats (they dont call), more elegant arms, and do not usually give a release call. They tend to be far heftier than the males, especially around the waist (they are packed full of eggs). Of course, after they have laid their eggs they are skinny and haggard looking. They tend to squirm and not want to be grabbed.

Please also record any JUVENILES (less than 70mm long) you find. These do not normally take part in breeding movements, but may be feeding. They are hard to sex. You will not find any TOADLETS (less than 20mm long) at this time of the year (they will only emerge in summer, and by spring are double to triple that size). Any adult (larger than 70mm) that you cannot sex you can label as ADULT: SEX UNKNOWN. Please err on the side of caution: remember that next year we may find that Johny was Julie! So dont guess the sex if it is not obvious - use this category.

You will encounter amplectic toads. These are easy to sex: the female is below (usually bigger), and the male above. Please do not separate them: photograph the male and record them as an AMPLECTIC Pair. (Amplexis is the grasping of the female by the male: he hangs on with his forelegs which are especially adapted to allow him to hold tight).

An ever higher level of data is to measure the toads. This can be done by weighing them (with spring balances {in g please}), measuring them (snout tip to bum {in mm} - we dont usually measure other features like leg length or snout width: that is for the specialists doing special projects), and photographing them (with a digital camera or cell phone). If you photograph the toad with a ruler or on gridded paper (10mm X 10mm) then you dont have to measure them. This is relatively advanced monitoring, but suprisingly, most volunteers are very keen to photograph their toads. And it yields lots of very useful data. If you want to know more you can find it here on the Upload your Toad Website

How is it done

The easiest way to rescue toads is to ride along a route in your car. If you are using the smartphone app, switch it on and switch on your gps. Toads in the road (and veld) do one of two things: they hunker down and freeze (an ideal strategy for avoiding a predator, not so good for avoiding cars) or else - especially males - they hop to the car (hoping that it is a nice big female to jump on - males are like that). Unless you see the toad as it hunkers down you are likely to miss it if it is in the gutter or verge: in the road they are easier to see, but can still be missed - look carefully where you are driving: you are supposed to be rescuing them not pancaking them. Alert toads are very easy to see as their white undersides shine in the car light. Check your safety, get out the car and rescue the toad.

To lift the toad, grab it firmly behind the front legs with your thumb and forefinger. If it is male it usually gives the release call and relaxes; a female usually squirms. Turn your wrist over and look for the black throat, tubercles on the front legs, and abdomen full of eggs: you will now know its sex. Put it in your ice-cream tub (which you have lined with a gridded laminated paper or with a ruler in it).

Some people prefer to work in the open, others get into the car (useful if it is raining hard). But get out of the road before you do anyting else! From the safety of the car/road verge, record the time, state and sex of the toad. Take your photograph (see Upload your Toad Website for how to make a useful photograph) with your iNat cellphone app, or if on an ordinary camera, please record the photograph number. And release the toad on the road verge (taking great care to check that it is safe to leave your car).

Do not move the toad any further. Do not take it to the nearest breeding pond. Do not take it anywhere. It knows where it wants to go and it is not up to you to interfere. If the toad tries to cross the road again, then take it (Left, Right and Left again, Remember!) to the opposite verge and leave it there.

Now that the toad is rescued and you are safe, finish recording the information needed. This is the details of the location. If you have a GPS then record this now. If you dont have a GPS then the street name and number of the nearest house are perfect. If their are no houses, then use odometer readings down the road. If you are using the cellphone app, this will all be recorded automatically for you.

If the toad is dead or seriously injured, then scrape it off the road (a paint scraper or spatula is very handy), move yourself to safety (look what happened to the toad!), and record as much as you can. Sex (obviously it wont call, but look for the dark throat and if the abdomen has popped, eggs or sperm) and photograph it, and pop it in a plastic ziplock bag. Using a permanent cocki marker, give it the number on your data form. I like to write the sex and "address" on it as well, as things get rather hectic, and I dont like it when I accidentally write the wrong number and then dont know who was Arther or Martha.

If it is injured assume that it will live. Put it on a safe place in the road verge. If it is still there the next day, then make a note, or if it is dead, collect it as a specimen: pop it into the ziplock bag and label the bag appropriately.

You have now rescued your toad (if not for breeding, for laboratory analysis) and you should have the following information:
State (live/dead/injured)
Sex (male, female (eggs, empty), amplectic pair, unknown, juvenile)

And that is all that is required. Go and rescue another toad. Be aware that things can get hectic: there may be lots of toads. Phone for help if it is needed.

When you have finished your patrol, summarize your data. Use this form downloadable here. Forward the details to your area coordinator. Dowload your photographs onto your computer, and at the end of the season, burn them onto two CDs and give one to your area coordinator (the other is a backup in case the other gets lost). If you are using your cell phone app, all the information will be recorded. If you had opted not to download the data live, to speed up the field work and to save costs, when you get to your wifi, synchronize your app to automatically download all your data to iNaturalist.


This is best done at quieter periods. Simply go to any pond and look and listen for toads and tadpoles. You will need at least five minutes. Stand or sit quietly and wait for the toads to come out of hiding (you will have scared them when you approached the pond, no matter how quietly you came, although some males wont care as they have females on their minds) and record what you see and hear.

There are several things you can record. The number of males visible. Watch them inflate the throat sacs as they call. Count them. Listen to the males calling: count them (not so easy, you will need some practicing!) Amplectic Pairs may be visible: count them.

Look also for egg strings. Count them. Even after the breeding orgy is over, you can visit the ponds and record when then eggs hatch to tadpoles. Count them. And if you are really keen you can return in November/December and record when the tadpoles become toadlets. Count them.

It is important to standardize your counting. There is no point spending 45 minutes today counting and 5 minutes tomorrow. I reocommend that you allow the animals to settle after your approach for 3-5 minutes, and then count for 5-10 minutes. If you have lots of ponds to visit, you cannot afford much longer anyway.

During the hectic nights of rescuing toads, there is not much time to visit the ponds. But if you are not too tired, go during the day: the males are usually active, calling and jockying for positions. You can get very useful data then. If you know of any possible ponds, then visit these during the day: there are probably many more breeding sites that we dont know about as of yet. Knowing where they are means that they can be patrolled next year.

Not many people know that the toadlets also leave the pools in a mass migration. They also get killed on the roads in large numbers. But they are so small that only a very few dedicated teams go and rescue them. Fortunately, summer days are long, and most motorists are off the road by evening on wet days when the toads depart. Contact your coordinator if you are interested. You will need to be available on rainy days from November to New Year.

Information first compiled by Tony Rebelo in 2007, and updated annually.

Posted on 30 June, 2018 12:58 by tonyrebelo tonyrebelo


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