Monsoons – what the O’odham people call the “male rain” of intense summer storms – green the desert, ripen prickly pear cacti fruit, and bring out mosquitoes and the critters that eat them.
Mosquitoes can carry diseases like the west nile virus or the new chikungunya, which causes fever and joint pain. They breed quickly in standing water. To avoid mosquito infestations, empty buckets, barrels, old tires, and anything that holds water outside. When spiders weave their almost-invisible threads between trees, try to leave them alone. Those webs catch mosquitoes, which the spiders then eat.
Another mosquito-eater is the little couch’s spadefoot toad (scaphiopus couchi). The first downpour brings them out of their underground burrows to send out their melodious mating call. Well, melodious to another toad, anyway. You’ve probably heard it – a sound that implies more size than their two or three inches length.
They will find each other and mate right after the rain, and the eggs hatch the next day, several days later the tadpoles hatch.
As the puddles dry up the tadpoles do a hasty metamorphosis, often in less than a week, sprouting legs and absorbing their tails. Now a toad, if it stays dry they use the “spade” on their rear feet to dig into the still-moist earth to wait for the next storm…or next year’s monsoons.
The rains also bring out the more brightly colored sonoran green toad (Anaxyrus retiformus), which follows a similar reproduction pattern. Their call has been described as similar to the buzzer on an electric alarm clock. The much larger Sonoran Desert toad (bufo alvarius) spends a lot more time above ground, taking refuge in any damp and shady places it can find. It eats anything it can stuff in its mouth, along with bugs. All toads will secrete a somewhat toxic and distasteful venom through its skin, so keep dogs and toads far apart. If you handle a toad, be sure to wash hands well.