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3 Oct 2013

A thing that goes beep in the night

A couple of months ago we had finished dinner with some friends who had arrived for a visit, when we heard an electronic beep, which repeated regularly every five seconds or so. Not too loud, but insistent. After 10 minutes we started to think it must be some sort of electronic alarm, and that we should perhaps pay attention to it.
The beeps seemed to be coming from outside the house, but we could not pin point exactly where. We suggested to our friends that it might be some sort of warning alarm on their car, which they had only recently bought, and which was parked right beside the house on the drive. So we got them to go and check it, but couldn't find any cause. A few minutes later the beeping stopped, and we all relaxed.
Next night it started again. Perhaps it was somewhere inside the house? Someone said that smoke alarms beep when their batteries are running low, so we took the batteries out of all of them. Still the beeps. We switched off every electrical thing that was running, except the lights. Then we switched them off one by one. Still the beeps. Just as we were about the switch off the electricity at the mains, the beeps stopped.
The next night was silence. The following night it started again. Still impossible to pin point the source location, but there it was, beep....beep...beep... Walking around outside it appeared that the noise might just be coming from a loosely covered concrete box sunk in the ground below a tap beside the front door. When we bought the house, the previous owner had suddenly abandoned a very extensive renovation and extension of the house half way through, several years earlier. This box had pipes, and also a bunch of electrical wires which were apparently intended to supply power to a building replacing a barn down the garden, a shed/workshop, electrically powered gates and other lights. It looked as if the wires led under the garden, but they went through the wall into the house and then disappeared; we never found out where they went. But perhaps those wires were connected somewhere, and the beep was coming from that. Looking in the box showed nothing but concrete, gravel, pipes and earth.
The following morning we spoke to the electrician who had done the work for us on the house, and asked if he had any thoughts. He said 'it's a toad'.
Didn't believe him. Could not be a live thing,, it was electronic. He said it was, and that he had other clients with the same toad in their gardens. I bet him a bottle of decent wine it was not a toad.
The next night, the noise was back, and a bit louder. I looked in the concrete box again, and this time I saw it. A tiny toad, about an inch long, lurking behind a stone. It was raining, so I was not going to lie on the gravel and reach down to catch it. But the following night, the beep was back, but even louder. As I opened the door, there was the toad, on the bootscarper. I picked it up carefully, and put it in the hedge a hundred yards from the house. Two nights later it was back, and this time I put it in a hedge several hundred yards away. I gave the electrician a bottle of good claret.
A bit of subsequent research showed it was a midwife toad, a species where the male attaches the spawn to his legs and carries it around until the eggs are ready to hatch into tadpoles, when it finds some water and lets them loose. No, I had never heard of it either. It is fairly common in France, and since then I have heard them at other people's houses.
As a postscript, there is now another one – or perhaps the same one, not possible to tell – in residence in the rockery by our back door. We hear it most nights, but now we know what it is take no notice. You can find information about the toad here: and if you click on the video on the left half way down the page, you will be able to hear it. There is a lot of other background noise on the sound track, but the beeps start at about 25 seconds in.

Related posts: slow worms, lizards   
Salamanders  and toads

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