The release of Hector the Toad


Hector awaits his release.
Hector awaits his release.

It happened in the blink of an eye early last fall. One minute I was mowing the lawn, and the next a small, greenish figure was struggling in the grass. My heart sank. It was a toad. I rushed to pick it up and noted with relief that I had only clipped one of the front legs, amputating it at the “knee.” Other than that, the toad seemed remarkably well. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?) Since the accident was my fault, I felt obliged to bring the toad inside and care for it for a while, in the hopes it might recover and go on to live a normal amphibian life.

Soon Hector, as my son named him/her, was well equipped indoors with a small aquarium, a shallow bowl of water and a nice hollow rock to hide under. For a few days, I applied a repti-healing aid to Hector’s leg with a Q-tip, and Charlie and I foraged in the gardens to bring the toad a steady supply of tasty worms and bugs. When the weather turned frosty, we switched over to mealworms from the pet store. Never once did we see Hector eat a single bite of worm, and in fact, he spent the entire winter hidden under the rock so that several days would go by before I would suddenly remember we had a pet toad and rush over to see if he was still alive.

Then one day recently, I passed through the dining room and noticed that Hector was out and about, alertly sitting on a pinecone. The next day, he was out as well. “I think Hector is done hibernating,” my husband remarked later that week. My son and I agreed we would set Hector free in the backyard as soon as the weather got a little bit warmer. A few weeks later, the chorus frogs and spring peepers began calling outside.

At a meeting recently, I asked people to share their favorite signs of spring. Some people look forward to specific activities – watching the baseball season opener or going outside without any socks. Other people look for buds on trees or tulip bulbs coming up in the gardens. For many though, spring announces itself with a chorus of sounds – frogs trilling, redwing blackbirds calling, and geese honking overhead.

During the spring, seasonal ponds and streams seem to appear out of nowhere. Sometimes called vernal ponds or ephemeral wetlands, they form in low-lying areas on the landscape when spring weather brings melting snow and lots of rain. Although these wetlands are temporary, they provide important habitat for migratory birds, amphibians and even insects like dragonflies. Pollution from fertilizers and pesticides can have a particularly bad impact on ephemeral wetlands during the spring when frog and toad eggs are hatching into tadpoles and birds are stopping over on their return journey north. Retaining a buffer of unmowed native plants around ephemeral ponds and streams helps to protect them from harm and using less chemicals on nearby lawns helps as well.

This past weekend, we decided it was finally time to say goodbye to Hector. We carried him outside and my son helped to choose a place in the back corner of our yard in a shady, hillside garden under some trees. After a few false starts, I finally convinced Hector to hop out of the aquarium and then I placed his hollow rock over him for protection. An hour later, when Charlie led my mom and a couple of friends over to show them where Hector was hiding, we all gasped in horror when we found the fake rock lying upside down in the lawn – the dog! Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a greenish figure hopping up the hillside. Gently, I scooped Hector up and moved him and his rock to the other side of the fence. He may not live forever, but today the toad is still safe.