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Make a toad house

This hefty Woodhouse's Toad (Bufo woodhousii) shows why we need to cut large entrances in a toad house.
(Doug Von Gausig)

It's fun to attract toads to the yard. They're not only interesting to observe, but beneficial, eating thousands of insects a month. Many people think toads spend their time in water, but actually they mostly stay on land, except during their mating season. At night they forage and in daytime they hide anywhere that promises a cool respite from the sun and safety from predators.

We can provide natural places for toads to hide in, such as wood piles and rock piles, and they're also willing to stay under porches and sheds, but it's fun to put out some toad houses, too. Children especially enjoy constructing and decorating toad houses and watching them being used.

Make a flowerpot toad house

Use a 7- or 8-inch clay flowerpot. Drill a series of holes in a semicircular pattern above the lip of the pot. Then, tap out the piece with a hammer. This forms the entrance, which should be at least 4 or 5 inches wide and 3 inches high (toads get pretty large.) Make sure the cut edges are smooth.

Pick a shady spot near water -- a pond, water feature, or even a birdbath or large flowerpot saucer sitting flat on the ground (no pedestal). Dig a shallow 4- to 5-inch well slightly smaller in diameter than the pot. Fill it with moist soil or rotted leaves for toads to lie in. In dry weather, you can sprinkle some water through the hole in the top of the pot to moisten the bedding.

An alternative is to use a much larger flowerpot or a three-pound coffee can. Lay it on its side and bury it halfway up in moist soil and leaves. This eliminates the need to cut an entrance hole. If possible, enlarge the hole in the bottom of the flowerpot to create another entrance. It's easy to remove a section of the coffee can's bottom for a second entrance. Use a metal file to smooth off sharp edges.

Some people lay a clay flowerpot open-side down and use stones to prop up part of it, providing an entrance without having to break away part of the pot. If you do this, just make sure nothing can possibly dislodge the prop, leaving a toad trapped inside. Prepare the bedding area as described above.

Make the toad's home pretty: Children especially enjoy doing this. Glue decorative tiles or pretty, shiny rocks to it. Or, paint it (remember part of the bottom will be buried.) Decorate the water saucer or birdbath to match. You're limited only by your imagination. Spray painted pieces with two coats of acrylic sealer. Be sure to clean the saucer from time to time and keep it filled with fresh water.

Make a toad hole

Ideally, toads need two openings in a toad house so they won't get cornered by an invading predator. A toad hole easily solves this problem. In a shady spot near water, excavate a hole 10 inches square by 10 inches deep. Fill it with soft soil topped with a layer of moist, rotting leaves, for summer bedding and winter hibernation. Build walls and a roof using large, flat stones. Use a 5-inch long by 3-inch diameter PVC pipe for the entrance hole and do the same for an exit hole.

Look for small garden gnomes and other hollow statuary.

Attracting toad residents

Hang a temporary, soft light a couple of feet above ground and near the entrance of the toad house to attract insects. The insects will draw toads if there are any in your yard.

See, but don't touch

Once toads have been attracted to a toad house, they can be nearly irresistible to a child. This presents an opportunity to teach children that wildlife can be unobtrusively observed, but should otherwise be left alone to go about their daily lives. Too much handling will drive the toads away. Also, if a toad is handled roughly he'll produce a toxic secretion through his skin that's an irritant, especially if it gets into the child's eyes or mouth. It's a toad's only defense.

Be sure to place toad houses where family pets won't get to them. This isn't so much for the protection of the toads, but for your pets. You'll want to spare them the extremely unpleasant result of tasting a toad. What if your pet bites a toad?

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