The toads and the bees

It’s official: spring has arrived in Maryland around 3 weeks early this year. Temperatures in the upper 60’s and into the 70’s brought crocuses into bloom, bees to the crocuses, and mourning cloak butterflies to the meadows.

At school, we tried to tap some red maples, but we were already too late. Their buds burst into bloom, and we retired the sap buckets until next year.

Speedwell, deadnettle, and bittercress showed their tiny blossoms, and clouds of winged ants swarmed over the playground and through the woods.

All this was accompanied by other data from the National Phenology Network, with an interactive map showing the progression of spring to different areas across the US. I really missed spring – my favorite time of year – when I was in New Zealand, but this feels like too much, far too early. But how to tell the serviceberry, the redbud, the spicebush to hold off just a bit longer? redbudThey are compelled to open in response to the warm temperatures around them – and when those temperatures drop back below freezing, as they are forecast to do this weekend, there is no going back.

During recess today, younger kids came running to tell me of a discovery: “There’s a big toad giving a piggyback ride to a little toad!” The middle schoolers grinned knowingly. The toads were in a dry, paved corner near the middle school wing, surrounded by an audience with lots of questions. The older students and I fielded them as best we could.”Why are they doing that?” “Because the smaller one, the male, wants to be right there when the female lays eggs.” “Why?”  “So he can be the father.” “When will she lay eggs?” “When she finds the right pool of water to lay them in.” And so on.

Finally the bell rang for the end of recess, and I placed the toad pair in a bucket. Later, with one of my JE classes, we carried them down into the woods to a shallow vernal pool to release. The kids were impressed that the male had continued to hold on to the female throughout this trip. I pointed out that if we hadn’t intervened, the female would probably have made this same long trip herself, hauling her partner the whole way – a behavior called amplexus.toads-amplexus

We left the toads contemplating their new habitat, knowing we’d be back to look for eggs as this unseasonable season unfolds.

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