Hidden nature 2: Isabel and the Gulf Coast toad

What did the little girl have in the butterfly net she carefully held in front of her as she walked in the dark down Evergreen towards Avenue B?
“Look at my frogs!” she said and let me peek into the net.
“Toads, actually,” I said, “Gulf Coast toads.”
“Well, anyway they are amphibians,” Isabel countered and she was right.
“I’m wondering how they go to the bathroom,” Isabel said, getting right to the point.
I told her they only had one opening for everything.
“I have two holes!” she said, perhaps naturally recognizing that she was also an animal, just like the toad.
“More or less,” I agreed.
In the hot Houston night, I walked a little ways down the sidewalk with five-year-old Isabel and her mother, answering questions about toads.
The mother wondered how I knew so much about toads, so I told her I was a biology professor at Rice University, something that is no longer true, and then was true for only eleven more days.
I wondered how they found their toads since they weren’t turning over rocks, and there are no front-yard ponds. I didn’t have to wonder long, for Isabel bent over the cover to a water meter, and popped it off, squatting to look into the dark well with her dim flashlight.
“No toads in this one!” she exclaimed, but she clearly expected toads in these dark wells, having found the two she had in the net in other meter wells. They were taking the toads home, hoping they would settle in their meter wells and crevices.
Isabel knew so many things about nature already. She knew that toads are hidden, most easily found at night. She wanted to know more, lucky to have an encouraging mother.
Just about every field biologist has stories of childhood nature adventures, in woods, ponds, beaches, or swamps. I hope Isabel grows up continuing to love nature, learning the hidden places for toads and other living things. I also hope she continues to be comfortable wearing her pretty white dress while doing field work!

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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