Field Notes Update

Eastern American Toad on the Trail by Todd Henson

Front angled view of an eastern American toad

I’ve mentioned before to look down once in a while when hiking in the woods, that you never know what you might see. In this case we saw an eastern American toad almost hidden on the trail. These are fairly common in this area, but it’s still always great to see one, especially when it’s patient enough to let me photograph it.

We found this toad in a wetlands park on a trail through woods that border the wetlands. A perfect environment for it, but being in the woods it was fairly dark. So I had to boost my ISO to 2000 - 4000 to have a fast enough shutter speed, and even with that these photos were shot between 1/25 and 1/40 of a second. This toad was fairly calm, though, which made things a little easier. It’s always nice having a cooperative subject.

Side view of an eastern American toad

I tried to photograph it from a variety of angles to capture as many details as I could for later identification. I’m not an expert at identifying wildlife so I’m always trying to learn more, and one thing I’ve learned is to capture as many details as possible while in the field. In this area the American toad can be confused with the Fowler’s toad, and apparently these species can hybridize, which makes a positive identification more challenging.

After consulting several field guides and online resources I believe this to be an American toad. It has a single wart in most of the dark patches on its back, which is indicative of an American toad. Fowler’s toads tend to have 3 to 7 warts in each patch. In the front view you can see some dark spots on its underside, again indicative of an American toad.

Back view of an eastern American toad

If you think I’ve misidentified this toad please leave a comment and let me know what you think it is and why. Thanks.


Resources

The resources below contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

Websites

Virginia Herpetological Society

Books

I own the following 3 books, though my editions may be older than those shown. I love Charles Fergus’ book, Wildlife of Virginia and Maryland and Washington, D.C. It’s not a field guide and only contains drawings of some of the wildlife, but it has lots of information on the species that live in this area. The Peterson and Audubon Field Guides are my current go to guides.


Look Up: Mud Daubers by Todd Henson

A mud dauber working on her nest.

In a previous post we took a look at one of the creatures you may find nesting on the ceiling of those open shelters you’ll find in many parks, namely paper wasps. Today we’ll look at another species of wasp you may see in these locations: mud daubers.

Whereas paper wasps build nests of a paper-like material they create from plant fibers, mud daubers use mud. There are many different species of mud dauber and each builds a different style nest. I believe the mud dauber in these photos is a black and yellow mud dauber. Unlike paper wasps, these mud daubers are solitary creatures, they don’t build colonies. That’s why you only see a single wasp around this nest.

Mud daubers are solitary parasitic wasps.

After she finishes building the nest, which contains a number of hidden cells, the wasp will begin capturing spiders and paralyze them with her sting. She’ll put several of these paralyzed creatures in each cell within the nest and then lay an egg in the cell. When she’s finished she seals the nest and leaves her eggs behind. The eggs are then on their own, hatching into larvae, which spin a cocoon and enter the pupal stage before finally emerging as adult mud daubers.

After completing her nest the mud dauber will leave her eggs to develop on their own.

Mud daubers tend to be less aggressive than many wasps, but it’s still safer not to antagonize them. Give them space and be happy to observe from a safe distance.


Look Up: Paper Wasps by Todd Henson

Paper wasps are very busy creatures.

After hiking for a couple hours through a park it’s often nice to stop and take break, resting in one of the open wooden shelters found in many parks. When you do, if you look up, you just might see one or more paper wasp nests. Perhaps you’ll even see a nest currently occupied with busy wasps going about raising their next generation.

A paper wasp nest in a corner of the ceiling.

A closer look at paper wasps on their nest.

Another paper wasp nest in the same shelter.

If you look closely at some of the photos (click on them for a larger view) you may see young larvae in the open cells. The queen lays eggs in open cells, which mature into larvae. These larvae will eventually spin a cocoon in the cell, also visible in some of the photos. They will enter the pupal stage in the cocoon, after which they’ll emerge as adult wasps. It’s a fascinating life cycle.

A paper wasp nest with several workers.

Notice the larvae in the open cells. Those in the closed cells have entered the pupal stage.

Be careful if you do find active nests. Though I’ve never had any problems with wasps, they can be very protective of their nests, attacking if they feel threatened. Best to leave them be, and maybe not stand quite as tall as you normally would if the shelter has a low ceiling. Sometimes I’ll just sit in a corner and watch (and photograph) the wasps as they go about their day. Very interesting and social creatures.

A small paper wasp nest, perhaps not as old as the others. All of these nests will be abandoned after their one and only use.

Next time you rest in an open shelter, look up. What do you see?