by Whit Gibbons

May 23, 2004

Lizards, tadpoles, and raccoons have something in common--at least this week. They were among the animals I received questions about over the last few days.

Q. - I read that a male broad-headed skink can kill a cat if ingested. My cat caught one, and after awhile the tail of the skink broke off and my cat ate the tail. Could ingesting only the broken tail harm my cat?

A. - Some blue-tailed skinks appear to be poisonous to cats, but no one is certain whether all of the several species of these lizards are toxic. At least five species of U.S. skinks, especially juveniles, have blue tails. Veterinarians confirm that at least some blue-tailed skinks are noxious to cats, but this may not be true of the big adult males, which do not retain the blue tail color. The effect is rapid, so you should know within an hour if the cat is going to have a reaction. I know from personal experience that at least one species of skink tastes incredibly vile, even when sautéed, and will make a person temporarily ill. However, the topic of toxic skinks has been poorly explored and is little understood by herpetologists or veterinarians.

Q. - Two weeks ago, our goldfish pond had hundreds of little black tadpoles swimming around in it. Now only a few are left. Did the goldfish eat them?

A. - Goldfish are in the carp family, and most eat detritus, algae, and other plant material. They probably do not eat tadpoles in large quantities, although they might eat frog eggs and an occasional tadpole. Some toads have tadpoles that can develop from eggs to toadlets over a two-week period, so they probably just metamorphosed and left your pond.

Q. - I recently saw two frogs in our small pond, apparently mating. The large one was slightly smaller than my fist; on its back was a much smaller one. I moved a stone so they could get out of the pond since its plastic sides are slick and steep. The next day the frogs were still together, floating peacefully. On the third day the smaller one had disappeared, and the large one was dead. The fourth day I saw perhaps a thousand tadpoles swimming around the pond. Could they have been the result of the witnessed union? Did I miss the stage I saw last year when long transparent, spaghetti-like ropes of eggs were stuck onto the underside of my aquatic plants?

A. - What you saw was two toads (not frogs) mating, the smaller one being the male. In most true frogs and treefrogs, the sexes are the same size or the male is larger. With the common toads and spadefoot toads, the females get much bigger. Strings of eggs are characteristic of the several species of common brown toads found throughout the United States and southern Canada. The eggs can develop into tadpoles within four days of being laid, so the tadpoles you saw could have resulted from the mating you witnessed. You may simply have overlooked the eggs that became tadpoles. I do not know why the female died; if the male was able to get out, she should have, too.

Q. - The other day our Scottish terrier chased a large raccoon that was hightailing it across my yard. The raccoon got away, and the dog was nosing at a very small baby raccoon. I got the dog inside the house, hoping mama would return for the baby. Later that day, the baby was gone. Can I assume a happy ending to this little nature drama? Is a mama raccoon like a mother cat, moving her babies as the fancy strikes? Would she come back for the baby?

A. - The mother probably came back for the baby, which would have followed her to safety. Had the dog cornered the mother raccoon, even without her baby, your question, directed to a vet, would probably have been, how do I patch up my Scottie. Raccoons will not ordinarily protect their babies out in the open the way bears would, but they will move very young babies from one place to another if they feel threatened.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

(Back to Ecoviews)