February 2022

The guttural toad and friends


The guttural toad and friends

“After the rain, grasslands thrill with the shrill trill of crickets, as courting toads convulse swollen, speckled throats, burbling leathery love songs, like the melodic thrum of rattle & drum.” - Kathryn Apel

With the good rains here on the Grumeti Reserve recently, we have seen an explosion of activity at the puddles, waterholes and streams! Frogs and toads begin their song at the water’s edge, on their quest for a partner that will ensure a future for them here in the Serengeti.

The amphibian activity on overcast days and at dusk is sometimes overwhelming as large numbers congregate to call to one another. Puddle frogs, kassinas, reed frogs, rocket frogs and guttural toads are but a few of the species that can be heard… and if you really take the time to look hard you might even steal a brief glance of these interesting little beasts!

The Guttural toad is widespread and common throughout Tanzania. Like many amphibians and reptiles, the female is usually bigger than the male. You will notice on the picture below the round ear opening behind the eye which is known as the tympanum. Behind this, you will see the raised, lumpy parotid gland which may ooze a toxic secretion if the toad is disturbed or molested – it is a perfect defence measure against predators. The guttural toad feeds mostly on insects. Males will call from the edge of breeding pools in the hope of intercepting a female. This is a well-known African night sound.

Many amphibians remain dormant or inactive during the dryer months, waiting patiently for the rains to arrive. The next time you’re on an adventure through the Serengeti during the rainy season, keep your eyes and ears open for these marvellous little creatures. A rewarding find and well worth the time spent trying to track them down.

The common reed frogs vary hugely in colour forms making them particularly interesting. These little amphibians are typical savanna dwellers and quite common here on the Grumeti Reserve. They have a pretty song, often heard along the streams at this time of year.

Another little firecracker that can be found at this time of year is the kassina! A beautifully marked frog with large eyes. Interestingly, the kassinas are also known as “running frogs” and when they feel threatened or nervous you can see that they literally run away rather than hop! They are awesome to see up close. You will notice a large eye with a vertical pupil like many of the tree frogs. The call of the male is a beautiful liquid rising “boink!” or a large drop of water falling into a bucket - it is a very distinctive sound in the field.

George David Tolchard
By George David Tolchard
Head Guide