I’m no herpetologist, and I’m certainly not one to wax lyrical about an amphibian, but the wetland close to our house has recently been colonised by Leopard Toads, and my family and I have found ourselves enthralled by the antics of these strikingly marked and strangely loveable beasties.
The Western Leopard Toad is unique to the coastal strip of south-western South Africa, and it is losing ground rapidly to a corrosive cocktail of human impacts. So much so that it is now recognised as Globally Endangered – two short steps away from the grimly-dark door of extinction. The Cape Peninsula is mecca for the species, and a scattering of vestigial concentrations of toads around the lower-lying areas of Cape Town is the subject of much diligent research, monitoring and protection.
Late winter into spring is when Western Leopard Toads get active and conspicuous. Under the cover of darkness, the adults rise from their solitary slumber – many of them from favourite sleeping spots in suburban gardens – and make their bow-legged way down to selected waterbodies. The males move first and gather at special spawning grounds in shallow water to boldly serenade their female folk. Inflating their air-sacs like kids blowing bubble-gum, the assembled suitors create a unified chorus that smacks a little of Barry White, resolving as an apparently irresistible, deep-throated, pulsing snore. The seduction culminates in ‘amplexus’, as the smaller males attach strategically to laying females, fertilising a multitude of eggs as they are deposited as spawn into vegetated marshland.
The jury is still out on why Leopard Toads have suddenly become so active in our area. We’re hoping that this change is indicative of increasing numbers and expanding range, but I guess there are other, less optimistic explanations for their presence here. Anyway, toads or not, these are truly beautiful and charismatic little animals, and we are just loving having them around.