Rain brings out the toads

When it began to rain in central New Mexico, people started to cheer. Ten-year-old Peter Brown and his sister, Brigit, ran from window to window. It was the evening of July 4. Even though the rain kept the children from attending the fireworks display, the moisture was worth celebrating.

For six years, New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest had very little rain or snow. This is called a "drought." From October 2005 to May 2006, the Albuquerque area, where Peter and Brigit live, went through the driest months in 114 years.

No rain and high winds had led to considerable erosion. So when the rain began, Peter and Brigit were happy.

But the biggest excitement was still to come. The next morning, Peter heard a strange sound. It was coming from the puddles in the yard.

He investigated the odd noise. He saw tiny legs sticking out of the water. Reaching down, he grabbed at them and pulled out a two-inch-long toad.

From a neighbor's yard, another toad continued the song alone. These two toads had been merrily singing to each other. They appeared unaware that their arrival seemed like a miracle.

"How can such water-dependent creatures appear like this, out of nowhere?" Peter wondered. With the help of his parents, he contacted a naturalist and learned a new word.

Peter discovered that frogs and toads "estivate." When environmental conditions threaten their existence, they bury themselves in the ground, and their bodies shut down. It is a state similar to hibernation. Amphibians can estivate for many months.

Peter's toad had been in that state for a long time. But the rain released it. A few days later, Brigit discovered tadpoles in another puddle. New life was emerging from what was once hard dirt.

Peter and Brigit celebrated. It seemed right that freedom for the New Mexico toads began on the day when our country declared its freedom 230 years ago.

All about toads

• Frogs and toads release a liquid from their skin when they are caught. This liquid is strong enough to keep many predators away.

• It is a myth that people who touch toads might get warts.

• Both toads and frogs contribute to the ecosystem. They control insects and are a food source for a number of animals and birds.

• The study of droughts is a fairly new science. The National Weather Service says there is a lot to be learned, and kids can share what they observe. How does a lack of moisture affect the land and animals in your area?

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