This year, there was less trouble with squash bugs and borers than in past years in the potager. I’m crediting this fellow (although not being an amphibian specialist, he could very well be a “she!”) I think it’s a Fowler’s Toad, although again I’m not a proper authority for identification, but they are supposedly common in our area, and the photo was the closest of any I found. My toad is about 3″ long when sitting and 2″ wide. They feed on insects and slugs. This year it lived under the “Ronde de Nice” squash plant, a lovely heirloom from France that produces a ball-shaped summer squash with a light green skin that has slightly darker green markings. I encouraged the toad to stay in that area by providing an overturned terra cotta pot that had a piece missing from it’s edge, making it the perfect toad abode.
I had been watching and enjoying seeing the toad whenever I watered the squash plants. However, one day he was missing so I went searching. Observing some odd movement at the nearby strawberry bed, I went to investigate. Imagine my surprise when I saw my toad frantically trying to hop with one leg. His other leg was completely swallowed by a 12″ long snake! I quickly pressed on the snake’s tail with my foot, adding enough pressure gradually that the snake eventually released the leg. The snake was quickly relocated to the woods, and I hurried back to check on the toad. There was a puncture mark on his leg, and he seemed exhausted, and probably traumatized. I gently picked him up and returned him to the squash bed. Happily, he completely recovered. I saw him almost daily until the cold weather came. I assume he has found a safe place to spend the winter, and certainly hope he returns come spring.
The other tactic employed this year was wrapping the squash stems from the ground up to the first branches with steel wool. I did need to occasionally add more as the plant grew, but there was definitely less borer damage than in prior years. This year I wrapped half the plants and left the other half unwrapped as a test. The wrapped plants definitely fared better. Next year, I will wrap all the squash base stems except the butternuts, which never seem to be bothered with borers. The most susceptible seems to be the “Orange Magic” squash, but it seems if I plant them later they do better. I still did a lot of bug removal, and checked and removed eggs when I could but if one grows a lot of squash, that can be a challenge. Hopefully, in the future there will be more and more toads to be the First Responders in the bug battle.