It was mid-December and four inches of snow had fallen the night before, the snow fell on bare soil that was frozen following several nights of temperatures below freezing.
The only tracks on the old road were those of wandering deer and of someone riding a fat-tired mountain bike earlier in the morning. Now I was walking along the old road leaving my own tracks alongside those of the bike rider. There was something dark in the snowy rut left by the bike’s tires – a wind-blown leaf perhaps?
But no, it wasn’t a leaf – it was a toad!
It was a toad! An American toad as large as a tennis ball, there in the snow, in the bike’s tire rut, with a temperature of 34°, with no other tracks nearby!
How on earth did the toad get there? There were no tracks in the snow that could explain its presence – no track of a mink that may have dropped a meal it had been carrying, no toad tracks, no depression in the snow where the toad would have landed if a raptor had dropped it from the sky.
The toad was stiff and immobile, possibly still alive, and it couldn’t have been there long, it certainly wasn’t there when the bike rider went by or it would have been a flattened toad.
How on earth did the toad get there? The toad was hundreds of feet away from any place that would be suitable as a spot for a toad to overwinter. How could the toad have traveled from its winter quarters (usually in a burrow below the frost line) and gotten trapped in the tire rut – at 34° F? This was a toad, not one of the wood frogs that are often active at temperatures just above freezing. Here was even more of a mystery than the dead deer that was the subject of this earlier post.
However the toad got into its situation, it brought along some other questions. To the wandering raccoon or opossum the only question would be whether to eat this morsel, and the answer would be determined by whether the raccoon or opossum could tolerate the toad’s noxious skin secretions.
But to a human there was another question in addition to how and why it got into the tire rut. Assuming the toad was still alive and uninjured; it would almost certainly die as the temperature dropped to well below freezing at the end of day – should the toad have been rescued or should it have been left to its fate?
Which course I took I’ll not say. In part that’s because whatever I did some of you will say I was wrong. But primarily it's because everyone needs to ponder and then decide what to do since the answer is much more complicated than it would first appear.