The thought of a dark cloud falling on West 19th Street occurred to me while standing on the front porch of our home and listening to the extremely heavy rain pounding the ground. After a short time the rain finally subsided and other sounds became apparent. They were loud ye-ows, continuously repeated, with each ye-ow lasting about one second. I recognized the sound as calls of Couch's Spadefoot toads.
As a newly hired professor at Eastern New Mexico University, I felt compelled to record the voices of those toads for my biology class. I grabbed my recorder, flashlight with fresh batteries, hat, light jacket, and started my plight. I drove slowly through water soaked streets and ended in a dark area between two metal buildings somewhere in downtown Portales.
With recorder strapped over my shoulder and tennis shoes on, I waded into two to five inches of very cool water and moved forward slowly searching for screaming spadefoots, shinning my flashlight on those I found. The recorder's microphone was only a few inches from their mouths, but to my great joy they were so "turned on" my actions went unnoticed.
Suddenly red lights were flashing across the sides of the buildings which surrounded me, and two city police officers in rain gear were shinning their flashlights on me. Their first question was, "What are you doing here?" My response was, "Recording the sounds of toads."
The officers were silent for a moment as they glanced at each other while I anticipated a cool night in jail and wondered how it would feel to be fired from my new post. Finally, one officer asked for my identification. He shinned his flashlight on it and, what seemed like slow motion, glanced back and forth between the documents and me. After a while, he returned my ID and allowed me to go about my business. As they drove off in their police unit, I often wondered what comments they made about the strange person they encountered that evening.
One thing is certain. Couch's Spadefoots do not emerge from hibernation in the absence of heavy rains. But when thunder and heavy rains occur and bring about optimum low frequency sounds, vibrations, and saturated soils, spadefoots are everywhere screaming, "Hey guys, one and all, spadefoot toads and friends, we are having a great rain."
The reproductive behavior is rapid and must be completed before the temporary pools of water dry up. Following a short mating period, females lay eggs which hatch within 15 hours. Tadpoles become small spadefoots, grow in size quickly as they survive in the moist soil and dig in for their hibernation.
The well-known comment, "It's raining toads" is not true, but it certainly appears to be that way. Let's just continue to believe the comment and consequently add joy to the event.
Tony Gennaro is a distinguished faculty emeritus in biology at Eastern New Mexico University. Contact him at: tonygennaro_08@ msn.com