Toddling with Aristotle
Aristotle famously said, "The more you know, the more you realize you don't know." We at Herping Virginia live by this. There is rarely a conversation that passes between Evan and I that we don't reference it. But we also put our own spin on it, and say, "The less you know, the less you realize you don't know." I see a bell curve that runs with arrogance (not to be confused with socially awkward) and knowledge. I call it the "arrogance curve". It seems that people that know half of a story are the most willing to "stand-up on their hind legs and bark" at you about how you are wrong.
This means often the smartest person in the room is going to be the quietest. Science has a way of humbling you out. I look at myself five years ago, and realize how naïve I truly was, and how my opinions have changed. We find in science that facts are just factors, and an affect is only a prediction. Meteorology is a prime example, the wind speeds, the amount of moisture, the type of front, and geography are all facts that are used as factures to predict a storm's outcome, and your weatherman still often calls it wrong. But pay attention to your older weatherman/woman. Notice their language. They may say, "It looks like we may receive up to 3 inches here." They never say, "We are getting exactly 1.5 inches.", because there is too much they don't know, and they hear people griping about how, "The weatherman never gets it right." They know what they don't know and they are humble about their knowledge because of it. This is why often when you see a protest on the news, many people are behaving irrationally and/or are college students. Sorry college students, but you fit this bill perfectly; as you are warned enough about life to have an opinion, but when you get out of college and start your adult lives, you will look back at your past self and think, "How could I have been so stupid...?" And I don't mean it has to be something as drastic as a political party change, but paying taxes, a mortgage, and bills all while going to work day after day really impacts your thinking after a few years. I went through it. My wife who is three years younger than me is going through it now. Our opinions change as we mature, grow more knowledgeable, and acquire new experiences. I mean that for an individual, but science and society does the same. There was a time that it was a scientific fact that the earth was flat. Now, we know that is not the case. What else could we be so wrong about? Well, that is what science is all about. What do we think now, and why were we wrong. This is not to bash scientists (including meteorologists), as scientists are going to be more correct than the general public (or the media cough, cough) on whatever there specialty is because they are the most knowledgeable. Meteorologists may not get it all 100% right, but if you gave me a list of factors for a storm in California, I sure couldn't begin to tell you if/when it will get to Virginia.
Media takes what scientists say at face value, and ignores what is unknown; more often than not to put their political twist on it. If you see something on the news about a newly published study, read the paper and consider the source. Do you know why coffee is good for you today and kills you tomorrow? It is usually because of what company funded the study and how they skewed the data. Luckily, biology is not as bad about this as dietary studies.
Social media like Facebook is the worse offender of all. Social media allows the whole general public to have an opinion on whatever you post (no matter how educated) and share it. People that are often the most willing to share their thoughts are at the top of that "arrogance curve" I drew above, and they love to scream from the top of it. I feel experts like to share their thoughts as well, but there are very few true experts on most topics. Do you know why I don't do social media? I had people, including group moderators say I was abusing my Leopard Gecko because I kept him on play sand... Now, just for some insight, there is a common myth that keeping reptiles on sand means they are eating sand and therefore it will cause lethal compactions in their intestinal tract. This is stupid. I cannot even sugar-coat this one. If an animal lives on sand in the wild, it is ingesting sand when it catches an insect in the sand. They would all die if they couldn't pass sand. Factor in my Leopard Geckos all eat from a bowl or off tongs (depending on the prey item) where they do not ingest sand. There are ample studies that suggest play sand is not only safe, but one of the best substrates you can use. Play sand is natural, unlike construction sand (which is made to compact as a building material) or calcium sand which both of these can cause compactions. What made it worse is they were advocating for reptile carpet, which is a breeding ground for bacteria as it soaks up liquids and I have heard of animals getting their claws entangled in, causing injuries. I know many people that have had Bearded Dragons die from compactions that were not kept on sand, because the main cause of compactions is low temperatures. Play sand is 100% safe for your desert reptiles. Don't take my word for it. Read actual scientific journals, do real research before buying any animal (don't stop researching the animal even after you own it), and don't just listen someone parroting what they heard from a 17-year-old kid at a big chain pet store. Oh, and don't trust a care sheet from a big brand pet store, as usually the products they suggest are ones that they are contracted with... Am I on a tangent... Sorry, let's get back on track.
I know what you are thinking, "Ty, I clicked into this article so you could tell me what is the difference in a toad and a frog. What is all of this philosophy nonsense you are hitting me with?" Well, I figured these two concepts marry well together. Mainly because... well... I don't know what a toad is... I get asked this question constantly, and I cannot answer it (and anyone who gives you an answer like "warts" or whatever do not actually know). I can give you my opinions on what the difference should be, and explain why I don't know, but to do so I will have to take you down the rabbit hole of taxonomy and linguistics that you are only ready to acknowledge if you know you don't know everything... So, join me as we explore the world of frogs, and we search for the answer to what is a toad; and hold on tight because by the end of this either fish will not exist or you will be a fish...
To the Dictionary!
I like using examples to get my points across and back it up with studies. I am sorry I used so much in the intro... So, what is a toad? Well, let's see what Dictionary.com says:
Well... Let's just start by saying everything in the order Anura are frogs including toads... So, that is like saying a Poodle is a close relative to dogs... OK... Let's see what Google says:
Well, it is a tailless amphibian... But it doesn't even motion frogs... I hate to say it though, but this definition literally could fit a tailless newt... It doesn't exactly make me think frog. Well, let's try something else and see what we can salvage here later.
What's in a Name?
Let's look at several species, from around the planet, referred to as "toads" by their common name and compare and contrast them. Surely we can find something that differentiates them from other frogs. Let's start with the American Toad.
I mean can you get a more textbook toad? Ok, while in North America, we have to talk about "Spadefoot Toads", so let's look at the Couch's Spadefoot.
I think this checks all the boxes right? It is able to live a good ways from water, has thick skin, a warty texture, is very stout, short legged for a frog, a big head, and huge eyes like the American Toad. I think we have our answer. But to be sure, let's pull in a South American species. How about Pipa pipa, which is often called the Surinam Toad.
Ummm... That does not have the ability to live a good ways from water or thick skin. Nor is it very stout, short legged for a frog, or bug-eyed... But it is warty and big-headed at least. Ok, maybe I got too exotic... One more North American species. Let's try the Eastern Narrowmouth which many scientists call the "Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad".
So much for big-headed and warty... OK... I see there is no physical similarities with any of these that isn't shared by other frogs... So let's try something else...
It's All in the Family
Ok, so we see no physical features that make a toad a toad... So, let's look at the family tree. In all truth, what makes a a dog a canid is not physical features, but its relatedness to wolves, foxes, and other canids. They all just happen to be similar in appearance and share certain traits. So, obviously a toad is a toad due to it being related to other toads right? If we trace a toad's taxonomy we should see they all go back to one level, like dogs, wolves, and foxes trace back to Canids. Similar to how an Eagle is a Hawk as that is what it is related to, but Falcons are not because they are closer related to parrots. So, let's check the iNat taxonomy for these same four toads and see where that ends up. Let's start with the American Toad.
That looks promising. Their family is literally "True Toads". I think we have our answer. Now let's look at the Couch's Spadefoot.
Wait... Their family is "American Spadefoot Toads"... So, they are not true toads? The next level is Anura, which is all frogs, so its not like toads are a suborder? What about the other two?
Surinam Toads are Clawed Frogs?! And Narrow-mouthed Toads are Sheep Frogs which are Narrowmouth Toads?! Are you confused yet? Ok, no more games. Let me explain.
A Toad is NOT a Toad, but a Frog Called a Toad.
If you are into science, you have likely heard the argument that fish do not exist. There is no way to define "fish". Lamprey and eels are fish, but you are closer relate to the eel than the eel is to the lamprey and the lamprey is more similar to a sponge. So, think of a forest full of fish family trees. All reptiles, amphibians, and mammals would all be on one limb of a single tree called tetrapods. Tetrapods include all vertebrates with four limbs as well as Lungfish and very few other living fish. This makes fish similar to birds, as birds descended from dinosaurs. All birds sit on branches split by dinosaurs, and this is why most scientists now consider birds to be reptiles, as were dinosaurs. In fact, it seems if you trace back different birds, you will find the different groups likely evolved from different dinosaurs. Birds are convergent, and divergent. The "ancestor to all modern birds" is probably not a single bird from the late Cretaceous, but a whole subgroup of theropod dinosaurs called coelurosaurs. This is why many taxonomists are shifting to phylogenetics. Birds are not a true class, but a sister clade with Crocodillians (and turtles for cousins). All of this is to say either sharks, salamanders, snakes, cows, birds, humans, and every other creature with a protected notochord are all fish, or none of them are. I probably explained this in a subpar way, so to keep me off my "arrogance curve", read some articles on this. It is a pretty interesting concept. So truly a fish is just an animal we decided to call a fish, without a true meaning.
All of this is to say we have labeled some animals (like fish and lizard) so loosely they have no meaning. And I dare say that the word "toad" is the worse offender of this. Why can I not tell you what a toad is? Because a toad is a frog that someone decide was going to be called a toad. The Gray Treefrog was once even called the "Gray Tree Toad". Names are labels and mean nothing more than what society chooses they mean. This is why there are different languages, as different cultures decided different sounds should mean different things. I cannot define toad, because there is no such thing as a toad because it is used so tactlessly slapped around on amphibians that it is no more than a synonym for "frog". Heck, it is so loose that people in the southwestern US call Horned Lizards "Horny Toads". People ask me constantly what is the difference between a frog and a toad, expecting a short, simple answer, and the answer is really a language issue and not a physical features. So, next time someone ask you what is the difference between a frog and a toad, simply say, "A toad is not a toad, but a frog called a toad.", and then explain all of this to them. Haha. I guarantee you will not be invited back to another cocktail party (I am joking of course).
So, Ty... What do You Believe a Toad Should be...?
I am a "keep it simple, stupid" type guy myself, and think there is an easy and simple fix to most of these. This is not a taxonomic issue, but a word usage one. So, I call all animals in the family "True Toads" toads. Why call anything else a toad? No one on this planet is going to say an American Toad, Cane Toad, or European Toad is not a toad. Those dictionary definitions are not describing the Eastern Narrowmouth, Couch's Spadefoot, or the Surinam Toad, and they are clearly not the same as the group that is so toad they are the "True Toads". That is right, toad has so little meaning I just used it as an adjective and you cannot do anything about it! But in all seriousness, if we stricken our usage to one definition, we can make this word useful again. I doubt if I showed most people a Clawed Frog, they would not say it's a toad, so why should Pipa pipa be the "Surinam Toad"? "Toads" should describe True Toads the way "Treefrogs" should describe Treefrogs, or "Cattle and Bison" should describe Bovines. Then we could say:
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