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The Conservation of Houston ToadEssay

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Biodiversity: Houston Toad

The Houston Toad (Bufo Houstonensis) Found mostly in Post Oak Savannah, Texas, has an appearance similar to the Bufo Woodhouse or Wood house's Toad. However it varies in that it is smaller, reaching just three and a half inches or smaller for the male with the female slightly larger. The color of the toad ranges between bronze to a very dark brown sometimes with a purple hue. Tiny opaque spots cover the underside of the toad. Its location in Texas may be attributed to the fact that they are not good at digging holes. They thus inhabit sandy places where soils are easy to burrow. Here they can quickly get away from the hot summer days as well as the cold winters when they hibernate.

The Houston Toad can be found to thrive in predominantly sandy places near swamps and small water bodies. The layer of sand needs to be at least a meter deep. Their habitations may have oaks, pines and other trees found in open areas. Some species found in this habitat include Ilex vomitoria (yaupon holly) and the Pinus taeda (loblolly pine). The almost stagnant water sources are ideal for the breeding of the Houston Toad. These breeding grounds can be presented by shallow ponds or places where water accumulates from springs. Shallow places on lakes are also ideal breeding grounds such as those on Bastrop State Park Lake. They also breed where flood waters accumulate. They will choose such water bodies that lie in close proximity with their dwelling places as it impacts on the chance for survival of the tadpoles. Also these places must not be teeming with their predators as noted by Jackson et.al, (2006) for then the chances for survival would be next to none. Also, the toads find their food, the teeming insects that breed here more easily. The importance of this species lies in its function of keeping the number of insects that threaten crops and vegetation under control. Thus, their role in keeping the balance of the ecosystem cannot be ignored.

This toad can be found in its habitat throughout the year. It can especially be detected when the males give off their mating cry when the season for breeding comes along. The mating calls can be heard normally between December and June. Breeding runs between February and March. This loud pitched call can be heard for about fifteen seconds. It comes from various places including objects and plants floating on the water and short distances from water bodies. The pitch of this call goes beyond that of the Bufo Americanus (American Toad). Stimulated by the high humidity as well as the warm evenings, the actual breeding takes place between February and March (Jackson et. al, 2006).

When the males' call is finally answered, the females make their way to the water body where they will lay their eggs. This only happens when the conditions are warm and humid. The eggs are laid in the water after which the males fertilize the eggs. The tadpoles emerge after one week of the fertilization. Then depending on how warm the temperatures are, they develop into toadlets within two to fourteen weeks. When this happens, these young toads move on to land where they will develop into full grown toads and be ready for breeding in the next season. The females will take about two years to be ready for breeding but the males are ready in only one year. The Houston Toads can fertilize eggs under suitable conditions throughout the year when they are a year old. The toadlets feed on insects (Jones et.al, 2012). This makes them a useful part of the ecosystem and the exploding population of insects under control. These insects that thrive in the swamps are harmful not only to the vegetation but can affect the livestock and farm animals, too.

These interesting creatures are threatened today because of the threat to their habitats. Land has been taken up for farmland and developing building sites and in the process the habitations of these toads as well as their breeding places have been destroyed. As stated previously, the toads can only breed in certain places where predators are absent and the waters are shallow and near their habitations. Thus when wetlands are destroyed and they are forced to move to permanent water bodies the chances of the survival of the species is low. Not only are they in danger from predators, but they also have to compete for food sources (Jones et.al, 2012).

Conditions of drought are also a danger to the existence of the toad. Long seasons of drought cause the shallow water bodies to dry up and the toads have no places to breed. In long drawn out drought spells, the immature toads stand little chance of survival. Other factors that cause these droughts like conditions are the removal of the indigenous vegetation where the toads naturally inhabit. The ideal conditions for their living and breeding are jeopardized and their chances of becoming prey increases. Some grasses that have been introduced to for sod also work against the existence of these toads because they cannot move about easily or make holes (that they need to escape the harshness of summers and winters) in these grasses (Moore, et.al, 2005).

The encroachment of man goes further into roads, pipelines and transmission lines. These three human activities have interfered with the habitations of the Houston Toad. When they cross roads passing through their native places, they get trampled. When they burro, they are interrupted by the pipelines and transmission lines. These act as barriers even when they want to move into their breeding grounds, when they are hibernating in winter and when they want to escape the heat in summer (Moore, et.al, 2005).

Another factor that endangers the existence of these species is long-term fire suppression efforts, which have worked greatly against maintaining the bunchgrass on the toad's native places. In addition, overstocking leading to the overgrazing of land has also greatly interfered with the natural habitat o the toad. Thus whereas in the past wild fire maintained a suitable, balanced landscape, fire suppression has promoted the emergence of brush groves which make movement cumbersome for the toad as well as for finding food (Swanack, et.al, 2009).

Another great danger that exists for these toads is the much more powerful fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) that invades their habitat. Because of their small population, and smaller growth rate the toads may be overwhelmed by these ants that populate faster and threaten the toads' existence. The ants target the toadlets that have left water and moved to land. Not only do they attack the toadlets but they also kill the insects and spiders that would make their diet (Swanack, et.at, 2009).

Chemicals from pesticides and other pollutants affect the toad as they do other amphibians whose skins react to them adversely. The more vulnerable stage at which these chemicals affect the toad are in the tadpole stage as well as the early toadlet stage. The chemicals also impair the food supply of the toadlets and the toads themselves. It is believed that the pollution just after the 1950s greatly diminished the numbers of the toad. One of the chemicals that was responsible for this was the insecticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). These chemicals not only harm the toad but the insects that it depends on for food.

The Houston Toad lives in small, separated populations which when further reduced by the interference of man, may greatly reduce their chances of existing into the future. Thus where one population is eliminated, it may not be repopulated because of the distance that separates these populations (Swannack and Forstner, 2007).

There has been a lot of study in the area of the Houston Toad in terms of the issues affecting its existence, habitations and breeding. Research is also being undertaken in areas where the toad can be repopulated. The public now has more access to information on the toad's history, its breeding, its habitations, and the issues surrounding it (Swannack and Forstner, 2007).

Swannack and Forstner also go on to say that to protect the toad, the temporary shallow water bodies should be left intact. The same should go for the natural ponds that are near the habitat of the toad. Vegetation that is indigenous to the toads should also not be cleared, as it will endanger its existence (Swannack and Forstner, 2007).

Throughout history, the toad has survived by fertilizing numerous eggs which must from this stage survive on their own. Their survival is not guaranteed and thus the high mortality for tadpoles and toadlets. Also, their breeding is dependent on atmospheric conditions being right and thus where these conditions do not occur due to changing weather patterns, the breeding is affected. Experts through research have projected the survival of the Houston Toad even with only 1% of the toadlets living to maturity. However certain conditions must be met. The adults must number… [END OF PREVIEW]

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