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Miyako toad

by Rowan Hooper

Japanese name:Miyako hikigaeru

Scientific name: Bufo gargarizans miyakonis

Description: A real “witch’s toad,” this is a large (up to 18-cm long) warty amphibian, with bulging black eyes and powerful limbs. The skin is yellow-beige.

Where to find them: As the name suggests, these toads are found mainly on Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture. But the Miyako toad is a subspecies of the more common Asiatic toad (Bufo gargarizans), which has been found on several other of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa itself, though it is now thought to have been eradicated there. It is common in China, is getting rarer in South Korea — and is used in Chinese medicine, of which more in a moment. It is a terrestrial toad, and can be found in grasslands and coniferous, mixed and deciduous woodlands on Miyako Island, and on roads after rain. It likes high humidity and breeds in rivers, streams, and ponds.

Food: Insects and insect larvae, worms and other invertebrates such as millipedes and freshwater crabs. In parts of China, the toad itself is eaten by humans, and they are collected for traditional medicine but also for research work.

Special features: This toad secretes toxins from the skin, known as “toad venom,” and these secretions are used in Chinese medicine to treat dropsy. Modern laboratory studies have shown that the venom has, at least, antibiotic properties. These toads breed in Spring, each female laying between 6,000 and 15,000 eggs. Tadpoles become toadlets by early June, and when they are big enough they leave their natal pond or swamp. However, their place of hatching leaves an impression, and three years later the adult toads are able to sniff their way back to the same pond when they feel the urge to breed. Males at this point are not fussy about who or what they will try to mate with, and will grab anything roughly toad-size and try to copulate. Although toads are not regarded with great affection in the West, Miyako toads, and their mainland Japanese cousins, are thought to bring good luck — for one by sucking in mosquitoes from people’s homes. They are also said to enter houses, and will accept food from the owners.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET