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Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Six: Case File No. 52-312

spotted American Toad closeup

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Where We Left Off:

The Grumpy Old Man was willing to go to extreme measures to find a health cure.

Toad Away Zone:

This case wraps up Year Six! We hadn’t had an interaction with a frog or toad since 2020 according to the case files. That seems…not possible. I know the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic screwed up life for everyone, but Gus and Ollie were still able to explore in our area. Even if the parks were closed, we had our space where wildlife visited.

In that last encounter, we learned how the wildlife were terribly concerned. They’ve been down right anxious about land development. The house next door was built and completed. The family has been living there comfortably. The old people’s house at the top of the hill was sold only recently and the young couple who bought it haven’t moved in, but they come to work on things and cut down trees.

Last I heard, the proposed food “recycling” plant (aka, garbage dump) was rejected by the advisory board. The dump was going to drastically change things—mostly, the incredible volume of dump trucks on our small roads. Of the projects in the neighborhood, that would be the largest and most disturbing. It’s not the idea of recycling food waste that bothers us; it’s the location they want to use.

The vodní­ci don’t have to be worried about their homes as of right now. In fact, the pond through the woods and across the way, is maintained by a friend. There are lush plants including water lilies. Gus visited once and it sure seems like an ideal spot for amphibians and their magickal counterparts.

Why was this creature visiting for days?

During my research, I came across this fascinating article about toads and beliefs. To this day, toads are seen as associates of cunning folk. We had no interest in inviting this creature into the house. Yet, Gus seemed eager to have a chat with it.

Toad on back step.

This was definitely not an individual we had ever met. It looked completely different, but then I remembered, some amphibians can shed their skin. That’s true, not only of snakes but, also froggy types. Toads and frogs are different, but I don’t know how or why. Nonetheless, transformation is something they’re known for.

I had to sift through past case files to find when Gus and Oliver last interacted with this particular species. It was 2019. Gus unfortunately tried to eat the small American Toad we found. The previous American Toad did not have this marbled pattern. Since we don’t know much about them, none of us knew whether the pattern could be developed over time as the animal ages. Perhaps it actually was the same toad as April, 2019.

Toad on lower step. Gus on back porch at back door.

I asked Gus if he could get information from our new friend. We learned that this toad is particularly magickal. Her skin color can change based on factors such as stress and environmental surroundings. An adult toad like this can eat a thousand insects per day! That’s an extraordinary bonus for befriending one because I do not like most bugs!

close up left side view of the American Toad

“She said that something big is coming, a big change of some sort.” Gus relayed that there weren’t any other details he could get.

“That’s frustrating.” I hated not having more to go on. A big change? So many things could fit that. Not to mention that something big to a toad may be small to us.

There are four houses for sale on our street in a quarter-mile stretch. New people having been coming this year and it’s noticeable. What kinds of changes will they bring?

“I don’t like new people.”

“I know, Gus. I know.” I could relate. Gus and I would a farm where neighbors are close enough but not in a way to impede on how we like to preserve the land. There are thousands of houses going up.

frog at upward angle to see belly and a little of the distinctive orange thigh
Hyla chrysoscelis male showing black throat

There are only three amphibians listed as endangered for New Jersey; and three that are threatened. The Cope’s gray tree frog (Hyla chrysoscelis, also called the Southern gray treefrog). The difficult thing about that frog is that it’s nearly identical to the northern gray treefrog which is not on either list. The Pine Barrens treefrog is the one on the threatened list and it’s quite distinct in appearance.

The other amphibians on NJ’s endangered list are salamanders. All of these creatures are suffering because of habitat loss. The eastern tiger salamander is going through the same as the frogs, birds, and mammals.

As natural woodland breeding ponds have been destroyed through development, dumping, and pollution, old gravel pits and farm ponds have come to serve as breeding sites for the eastern tiger salamander. —NJDEP

If you want to take a deep dive into the rather pretty blue-spotted salamander and tickle your fancy for obscure trivia, here’s a hot bit of information from the state:

At the end of the last ice age the ranges of the blue-spotted and another species of mole salamander, the Jefferson salamander, overlapped, which produced a series of hybrids that share many of the physical characteristics of the two parent species. One of the hybrids was found to be an all-female species that required male blue-spotted salamanders to reproduce. This hybrid was known as ‘Tremblay’s salamander.’ Because of its close association and supposed reliance upon blue-spotted salamanders for reproduction, Tremblay’s salamander was once listed as an endangered species in New Jersey. However, recent investigation into the genetics of the hybrids demonstrated that the Tremblay’s salamander was not a true species but instead part of a dynamic hybrid complex that is still in taxonomic debate (Klemens and Bogart 1997). —NJDEP

Ambystoma laterale (blue-spotted salamander)
Ambystoma laterale (blue-spotted salamander)

Maybe it isn’t about the neighborhood. Maybe the message is about the seasons changing. We’re in spring with unpredictable weather. Oliver suggested it could be a political statement. The fairies had to move into Gnome Grove as their tree stump rotted naturally. The bobcat has been seen more this year than any previous year. Locals have reported a lot of bears, but I don’t have any reports for this year yet.

What we need is an app like iNaturalist and Merlin for fae, types of specters, cryptids, and monsters. It could be done, but I am not about to undertake that ambitious project. 

Case Findings:

The detective agency was visited by a mysterious toad friend. She left us with a cryptic message about a “big change” coming. After a brainstorming session, the cats and humans still hadn’t figured out what change the toad was implying. Pollution, pesticides, and loss of habitat—it’s a familiar worry among all types of wildlife and even the humans who live here. All of us want clean air and water and safe places to live comfortably. I don’t know how we can help this particular Toad other than to offer up directions or a lift to the pond on the other side of the horribly busy road.

Case Status: Open



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