April showers bring May flowers and also, perhaps, a torrent of toads!

The wet weather could inspire more than just the ducks. The large amount of rain last week was plentiful enough to bring out spadefoot toads. Spadefoot toads need at least two inches of rain and a drop in barometric pressure before they are persuaded to venture out of their comfy underground burrows.

Unlike pinkletinks, which serenade us every spring, eastern spadefoot toads can’t be counted on as an annual phenomenon. Without proper conditions, there will not be a spattering of spadefoots. These amphibians can and do remain below ground for years at a time in a dirt burrow that they create by secreting fluid which hardens and becomes a safe, sealed chamber. This burrow can be as deep as a few feet underground.

With recent conditions, spadefoot toads could come out to feed and breed. Because of their sudden, and in some years, singular appearance in great numbers, they are known as “explosive breeders.” They are rare on the Island. In fact, it is likely that only down-Islanders might see or hear them, as historically they have been recorded in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown exclusively.

The mating call of a spadefoot toad sounds like a snore or a grunt and has also been described as sounding like the bleating of sheep. The male toads produce this sound by closing their mouth and nostrils and squeezing air from the lungs to inflate their vocal sac in the throat, which blows it up like a balloon.

It is a quick turnaround from egg to adult for spadefoot toads — an explosive growth rate for an explosive breeder. Eggs can hatch as quickly as one to four days after they are laid and will grow into adults by the 20th day after hatching. This rapid development helps spadefoot toads survive by reducing the window of opportunity that predators have to catch them in a vulnerable state.

Hearing these toads is easier than spotting them. If you are out looking for amphibians, these small toads (usually no larger than three inches) can be identified by observing a few of their distinctive characteristics. Two yellow lines going down their mostly smooth backs create an hour-glass shape. Or notice the pupils of their eyes, which, unlike most frogs and toads, are oriented vertically and are a golden yellow color. By far the most distinguishing feature of this toad is its spade-shaped hind foot, which allows for that deep digging of burrows.

If you find one, look, but don’t touch. Spadefoot toads secrete toxins that can be harmful if they come in contact with your skin, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth. Thus it would be very bad to take the advice of cynical French writer Nicolas de Chamfort who insisted that if you, “Swallow a toad in the morning, you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.”

Swallowing or disturbing spadefoot toads is not advisable for another reason. They are listed as threatened in Massachusetts and other surrounding states and need our protection.

Opinions vary on the appreciation of toads. On one hand, humorist Dave Barry professed that “if God had wanted us to be concerned for the plight of the toads, he would have made them cute and furry.” Scottish novelist Kenneth Graham, however, had a view more in line with myself. He knew that “It’s never the wrong time to call on Toad. Early or late he’s always the same fellow. Always good-tempered, always glad to see you, always sorry when you go!”

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.