I am glad I wasn’t born a toad. Not that I usually wish I were born another animal, the simple fact that I can use my fingers to remove the ridiculous amount of ticks from my legs after a mere 3h walk is a reason good enough for me not to be a handless creature having to struggle 24/7 through the tall grass of the reserve! But on one specific occasion, I had the confirmation that I was absolutely glad I wasn’t born a toad.
During a walk, you can focus on smaller things that are more difficult if not impossible to notice from a car, and it is always rewarding to spend some time walking around a waterhole in summer. The first rains mark the beginning of a survival race until the beginning of winter for many life forms that have to go through the process of mating, laying eggs, hatching and growing up and reaching maturity before the end of the season so they can reproduce and die or rest during the dry months. So the first rains mark the beginning of frog’s choirs soon followed by the appearing of foam nests above the water and egg clusters (frogs) or strings (toads) in the water. And not long after that, tadpoles growing fast to transform into frogs. So that’s where we were in December when, still in training then, I was walking around Mbomvu dam together with the other students. Tadpoles were still living their own evolutionary history of life in the water while red toad toadlets were walking around the muddy shores, some still displaying a tail that they would soon lose (frogs and toads are part of the order Anura, meaning “tailless”). But, being small, toothless, with a thin soft skin and clawless means that you are, first, not very dangerous, second, not very intimidating. So the poor things had tons of predators just taking them for an easy snack. As we were walking around the dam, the birds flew away, giving them a short break, but a more insidious threat was still very active. Ants were on the hunt. And those fearless little guys don’t mind taking down bigger preys if the opportunity arises. However toadlets are not very big themselves and even for just two ants, they were no match and some of them were caught, dismembered and taken (still alive !) to the ants’ lair.
But as gruesome as it may seem, it all went according to the parent’s plan. Frogs (and therefore toads) are what ecologists call “r-strategists”, which means the parents will produce lots of offsprings and show no parental care, relying on the high number to get a few successful individuals out of the mass, and thus keeping the species alive. So when you are new at life, and you realise you came out of a soft translucent egg, you have gills and you are swimming underwater in a dam in Southern Africa, you know things are not going to be easy and you’ll need the luck of the devil to make it to adulthood. And thanks mom and dad for not having me made outcompete a thousand siblings amongst a pride of hungry lions when I was born!
Many guests come here to see kills and predator action. It is true that seeing big cats taking down preys is always a special and unique sighting, but all life forms have to face their own battles for survival and it is also interesting to take the time to look at a smaller scale and observe all those little battles that can be so easily overlooked.