This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The forester, farmer and gardener has no better friend towards his crops than the despised toad, for rambling at night in woodland, in field and in garden, it destroys numbers of woodlice, millipedes, slugs, grubs and insects which hide by day and come out at night to feed upon vegetation. The toad also hides by day, ana at dusk, or on dull days before rain, sallies forth with cautious steps: and dull, slow, heavy and ungainly as it may appear, ranges over the ground snapping up pests then come forth to banquet. In sight of prey the toad's look becomes intent, its action hasty but cautious, and when within striking distance the body is raised on the hinder feet, aim taken for a moment, and then the prey seems to suddenly spring into the toad's mouth. It prefers woodlice as food, but feeds on slugs, beetles and weevils, flies and moths, grubs and caterpillars, earthworms, etc.
In most pleasure grounds and flower gardens toads find suitable retreats for hiding by day and for hibernating in winter, such as a hedge, neglected nook, rockery for ferns, or rockery for rock plants. A toad-house, however, may need to be formed in some cases where it is desired to introduce toads, and is readily formed of stones, burrs, or butts of trees placed in an unobjectionable situation. The material may be arranged on a bank or on a slight mound so as to make tortuous burrow-like cavities, open externally and closed at about 18 in. from the entrances. On the material so disposed place about 18 in. depth of earth and plant periwinkle on the mound. This domicile will be more ornamental than otherwise, and answers admirably in a somewhat shaded and secluded situation.
Fig. 150. - Common Toad. 1. When introduced to glass structure. 2. After high feeding on pests. 3. Shelter.
We have kept toads in cold and heated frames and pits, greenhouses and hothouses, mushroom houses, etc., and found them invaluable in clearing woodlice in cucumber and melon frames, pits and houses, tomato and fruit structures, pineapple and plant stoves, greenhouses, orchid houses, ferneries and mushroom sheds. The animals are quite harmless and inoffensive, not poisonous, yet secreting an acid liquid from the large tubercles, so that dogs do not care to bite them. The appearance of the creature may not be pleasant, but the eyes are beautiful: and though a person cannot muster sufficient courage to handle one, he may, at all events, extend care and protection to an extremely useful animal, placing when one is seen in jeopardy in a place of safety by taking in a shovel.
If any person possesses a frame, greenhouse., etc., no animal exists better capable of rendering service in the destruction of woodlice than the ugly, sprawling, awkward toad, and we ask that it be given a chance to display its merits, placing at least one in every frame, pit, or house. If lean and frog-like (Fig. 150, 1), when placed in the structure, it will soon broaden out, sometimes attaining a large size (2), fine specimen, reaching nearly 1 lb. in weight. Where there is some soft earth the toad soon digs a hiding-place, working backwards and pushing out the loose earth in front, thus wriggling itself into the ground and keeping its head towards the entrance of the hole. A few clods of earth and a slate placed over them in the corner of a frame, pit, bed or house (3) will soon be taken possession of by woodlice and an introduced toad. "Where no soil or soft material exists for the animal to hide in, two bricks may be set on edge about 3 in. apart against a wall, covering with a tile or slate. If in a corner and about three-parts filled with cocoa refuse, spent tan or loose earth, the toad will speedily take possession of the "house" and keep therefrom a watchful eye on woodlice.
Some loose material should be placed against the bricks and on the slate, but not entirely closing the opening.
The toad hibernates a shorter time during the winter in greenhouses, stoves, etc., than outdoors, retiring, as a rule, early in autumn stout and sleek. After a few weeks' repose it comes forth relatively lean and eager for feeding on woodlice. In return for services rendered at no cost, only perhaps a small outlay for possession, the toad requires care, not injuring it in moving soil, etc., with spade, fork, or shovel, and not treading upon it in looking round the houses at night for ascertaining temperatures, and when, in case of raised beds or pits, the animal be found fallen on pathways, lifting it up to the proper quarters.