Monsoon rains not only cool the air and bathe the desert. They also set the stage for a loud and lusty burst of amphibian amour.
Several species of desert toads - quietly tucked away underground for most of the year - take the rains as their cue for a courtship marked by noisy bleating and fast fertilization.
The commotion usually begins with the first driving rains of July and raves on for about two months.
Come early September, the toads go back underground and remain mostly inactive for 10 months.
Watch - and listen - for the lovesick little critters in places where rain collects in large puddles, ditches or basins. Those are ideal spots for breeding.
Species living in and around Tucson include the Couch's spadefoot, Mexican spadefoot, Great Plains, Sonoran Desert and red-spotted toads. Other species, including the Sonoran green toad, live west of Tucson.
Couch's spadefoot toads are among the most common - and noisiest - of the little hoppers in our area.
"Spadefoot toads come out by the thousands, and you can hear the males bleating from a mile away," says Cecil Schwalbe, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
"As you get nearer, the bleating is overwhelming," says Schwalbe, known for his expertise in amphibian ecology. "It ranks up there with a loud rock band."
The reason for all that spadefoot bleating - and the assorted shrill calls of other species - is to attract females to a breeding site.
"The female's response is delayed a bit," Schwalbe says. "When they get to the breeding pond, they can lay the eggs within an hour or so. The male fertilizes them as they're deposited"
Schwalbe says the eggs can hatch quickly - within as little as 18 to 36 hours.
"Then the tadpoles can metamorphose and hop out on land in as short a time as a week," he says. "It's a fast, amazing transformation."
On StarNet: View current conditions and the 10-day forecast for Tucson and Southern Arizona at azstarnet.com/weather
Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4192.