You came home from work to discover your child has brought home a colorful cardboard box with holes poked in it, and that you are expected to send that box back to school with one or more toads inside. Yup, Conway’s famous Toad Suck Daze festival is just days away, and the local schools are hosting their own toad races! So now what? How do you find and catch a toad, and then keep it alive long enough to make it back to school to race? Here’s what we learned from our family’s first toad racing experience!
Even though I grew up in the country, I’ve never been much of an outdoorsman. But I’m always up for an adventure with a good story. So when my twin kindergartners came home with “toad boxes” to catch toads in anticipation of their elementary school toad race, I knew two things.
First, I knew that we had to participate. I mean, this activity checks all my boxes for an iconic, memorable (dare I say magical?) childhood experience. It’s a community tradition (part of Toad Suck Daze), involves family time, requires exploring the world, and provides lots of opportunities for learning and growth. Plus it involves running around in the dark after a tiny, muddy, creature. What could be more fun?
Second, I knew that I was clueless about how to do this. A quick google search wasn’t much help, so I turned to social media, local friends, and then back to the internet to find out more about toad care. I learned a lot about these amazing and resilient little amphibians! I figured I would document our experience in the hopes it may help other newbie toad racers in the future.
Prepare a toad habitat
The first thing we did was set up a small toad habitat. While I’m sure the cardboard boxes provided are probably sufficient, I really didn’t want to risk accidentally killing our toad if we caught one. My research indicated that toads need water and thrive in a moist environment which doesn’t seem very compatible with cardboard. Plus, with this being an annual tradition in Conway, I figured we’d reuse our setup and so the effort and expense would be worthwhile.
Here’s what we got:
- One plastic carrier (with air holes, a secure lid, and an opening to put in the toad and food)
- Cypress mulch for the toad to burrow into
- Two little water dishes, one for each toad we were intending to house
- Bottled spring water
- A sprayer to mist the bottled water and keep the inside of the carrier humid
PLEASE NOTE: this carrier is too small to be a good pet toad habitat. It’s only intended to host 1-2 toads for a few days.
I went with the larger size tote in the hopes we’d get two toads and could put both in it. Toads apparently like to sit in water, which is why we got a dish for each potential resident. I purchased the smallest bag of cypress mulch available, which was 8 QT, and I had half of the bag left over after filling the carrier with a very generous layer. In total I spent around $40, though it would have been possible to spend less by getting a single water dish, a smaller bag of mulch (I think they come in 4 QT bags) and a smaller carrier.
We learned from this great YouTube video on toad care that ordinary tap water can be harmful to toads because it can have chlorine in it (chlorine is poisonous to toads). Distilled water isn’t the best either because it removes beneficial minerals from the water along with everything else. Therefore, the best options are well water or bottled spring water. I filled the little water dishes with bottled water, and put them into the plastic box along with the mulch.
We didn’t pre-purchase food. I learned at the store that fresh crickets only last for a day at the very most. So it’s best to wait and buy fresh live food after you’ve already caught your toad. According to the YouTube video we watched, toads only eat every 2-3 days and it shouldn’t be a problem for it to spend the night without food in your enclosure. If you need to keep the toad longer than overnight, however, it’s recommended that you feed your toad. You can purchase food from a bait or pet store. Live crickets are probably the easiest, but apparently mealworms are also good.
I foolishly asked about a net to catch the toad. I was informed by the sales associate that you catch them with your hands.
Find and catch a toad
Finding and catching a toad was harder. Toads sleep during the day and are active at night. So, we headed out as a family at dusk to look for two toads somewhere in our neighborhood. Places recommended to us that we tried:
- Under or near street lights
- Near ponds or lakes
- Near shallow water features (like fountains)
TIP: When you go out to look for toads, don’t forget to bring a flashlight and the container for your toad.
For about an hour we tried searching several locations in our neighborhood, including the pickup/dropoff loop at Ruth Doyle Middle School, near the entrance to Spencer Mountain at the Lake, and around the ponds with the geese on Fountain Drive. It started to get too late for our young kids, so we returned home empty handed to look in our yard. Still no success. The girls went to bed disappointed, but understanding that such is the way with toad hunting sometimes!
When all else fails, look in your yard in the middle of the night
I was not ready to give up. After the kids were asleep, I got up in the middle of the night and searched our backyard in the rain until… Hooray! I found a toad! Catching this particular toad was easy – it stayed very still! When the moment came I was too nervous I would hurt it or lose it to grab the toad with my hands. So, I used a small, deep Tupperware to trap the toad instead. I put the Tupperware over the toad, and as it started to try and get out, I flipped the little tub over and covered it with my hand so the toad couldn’t escape. I opened the top of my little terrarium, and dumped the toad into it. Right away, the toad decided to burrow into the cypress mulch, where he stayed the rest of the night. In the morning, when I moved the plastic container to take a few pictures before taking it to school, the toad decided to climb out to the surface and jump around a bit, testing the plastic walls. Such a cooperative model!
I quite enjoyed getting to be the hero for my husband and kids this morning when they discovered that mommy caught a toad in the middle of the night! My daughters have named our toad, “Toadie.” If Toadie should win today at school, he or she will go on to race at the Toad Daze Festival in Conway, and we’ll get to keep him in his temporary quarters for a few more days. If not, Toadie will be released back into the wild after today’s races at school and hopefully enjoy a long, wonderful toad life eating bugs and hopping about! Happy Toad Suck Daze everyone!
I hope this post helps you make a great memory with your kids and family!
- Do you want more memory-making tips and inspiration or to share your journey with other Arkansas moms and grandmas? Come and join us at Moms Making Magic: Family Activities & Community.
- Ready to start making memories this weekend? Get my free Childhood Memories Bucket List – a printable checklist of more than 150 memory-making ideas to enjoy with your kids before they grow up.
- Consider coming out to the Toad Suck Daze festival in Conway! Toads are provided for those who want to enter the Toad Races at Toad Suck Daze (if you don’t have your own). After the festival, the toads are returned to Tucker Creek. My favorite part of the festival is that it raises funds for college scholarships, scholarship endowments, and preschool.