A haven for wildlife

I like to think the little piece of France we own is animal friendly. We don’t use pesticides, our garden has plenty of wild and impenetrable corners and I have left one side of our wood uncleared for the animals and birds. This is a farming area, but there is plenty of woodland, too. We are rewarded by sightings of deer, hare, stone martens, red squirrels and many species of birds and butterflies. We even had a family of hedgehogs living under the bush by the kitchen door (below).

Hare taken from a distance, with a lovely russet chest

Since it is relatively undisturbed, the wildlife lives to a ripe old age. I was reminded of this last week when I decided to clean our cave (cellar).  

Spider land

Our cave is not a proper underground cellar, but a small space tucked beneath our bolet (covered balcony). The rocky terrain would have been a disincentive to excavation. When we moved in – 23 years ago almost to the day – we didn’t even know it was there.

The cave is accessed by a low door. You have to bend double to get in. Once inside, you can easily stand upright. We have covered the earth floor with sharp sand, and the cave is now home to our small stock of wine and an overflow freezer.

Inside the cave

Unfortunately, it’s also home to countless spiders, some of which have grown to gigantic proportions. I am not an arachnophobe, but I don’t care for being festooned with sticky webs. They had to go.

One spider in particular would have given a tarantula pause for thought. She had plainly eaten the desiccated one that hung nearby, presumably a hapless suitor. She scuttled off into the stonework before I could take a picture. The one below is pretty big, but nothing like its fellow cave-dweller.  

Outsize toad

My encounters with outsize beasts continued. Emerging from the cave, I spotted the cat dabbing gingerly with a paw at something in the undergrowth beside the path that leads to our stone table.  

She’s not usually so cautious, but then I saw why. The biggest toad I have ever seen sat there, seemingly oblivious to the provocation. I shooed the cat away. Toads exude a highly toxic substance if bitten, which can kill a cat or a dog.

Luckily, I was able to get some shots of this venerable beastie (common toads can live to 12 years). The females are brownish, so I assume this one was a male, which are greyer in colour.

We often see toads around the garden. They live in the many cracks and crevices in our stone walls. They are welcome, since they consume slugs and other nuisances. Having no teeth, they swallow their prey whole.

Like frogs, toads lay their spawn in water, from which hatch tadpoles that turn into the adult version. There is very little standing water around here, so it’s difficult to know where they breed. However, it appears that they will travel some distance to breed, sometimes returning to the pond where they were spawned.

Toads are strange animals. We once found a whole family of them nestling in the middle of a sand heap, where you’d think they would die for lack of air. As amphibians, presumably this isn’t a problem. They also seem to have the ability to compress their bodies to slide into impossibly small holes. And the one I trod on in the dark by the gate one night ambled away, apparently unharmed.

Undeserved reputation

Toads were long considered animals of ill omen and associated with witchcraft, probably because the poor things are not exactly oil paintings, with their warty skin.

They also appear quite commonly in French literature and in myths and legends. In his Souvenirs d’Enfance, the Provençal dramatist and film director, Marcel Pagnol, recalls that his school master father called him “crapaud”, a rather strange term of endearment. In Pagnol’s Jean de Florette, the eponymous Jean’s daughter, Manon, describes their peasant neighbour, Ugolin, as “vilain comme un crapaud” (ugly as a toad).  

Pagnol’s Souvenirs d’Enfance

The toad has also given its name to certain items of furniture. A kind of armchair known as un crapaud is low and squat, while some baby grand pianos were known as crapauds.

Our own toad, unaware of all of this, crawled into relative safety under the hazel roots. The cat looked at me apologetically, feeling she had somehow been in dereliction of duty. Monsieur Crapaud lived to see another day. I hope he’ll see many more.

You might also find these of interest:

Hedgehogs in the Bush

Hares

Seeing the wood for the trees

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

10 comments

  1. Unfortunately we are not removing spider webs in France this summer as Australia’s borders have been closed, so I have to have my “French fix” from reading French blogs. I am definitely getting withdrawl symptoms as the end of the French summer draws closer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, I didn’t realise you are in Australia. That’s a shame. Let’s hope things improve so that you can come next year. Summer is certainly finishing here. It’s raining and is forecast to do so over the weekend. But we did need it.

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  2. The worst spider bite I have ever received was from a tiny French spider that was dislodged when I was cleaning away thick blankets of spider webs that were festooned over our windows in our maison secondaire – a usual task at the beginning of our French summer holidays. The tiny bite on my wrist refused to heal. It slowly developed a rash that advanced up my arm during the course of the next 6 months, then suddenly the rash and accompanying bite mark disappeared!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds really nasty. I knew spiders could bite, but I didn’t realise a bite could cause such a reaction. I hope you haven’t had any recurrence. I suppose you can’t blame them for defending themselves, but sometimes one can’t just leave a mass of webs. Did you manage to get to your French house this year?

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  3. Vanessa,
    Do you ever see any snakes where you live?
    I stayed in a lovely mill cottage near Poitiers and first thing the owner said to me is that “ I hope you aren’t worried about snakes?”….never saw one during my stay and still not sure if I am disappointed or pleased!
    Another Brit I recall reading about returned to England because they couldn’t cope with the number of snakes they encountered.
    Best wishes
    Stuart

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we do see snakes, Stuart. They are usually Western whip snakes (couleuvres in French), which are not venomous, but can grow quite large. There are said to be adders around, but I have never seen one here. I don’t care for snakes, but they don’t bother us. Funnily enough, when looking for a house here, we were shown a mill house. A sign on the window said, “Keep the curtains closed because of the snakes.” On leaving the house, we came face to face with a huge couleuvre on the bank opposite the front door. It quickly slid away. I imagine they are drawn to the water channels. That house was not for us!
      All the best, Vanessa

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  4. There is also a jug in use in France called a “crapaud” squat and wide rimmed and yes it does reminds me of a toad! I made a copy of one as it’s shape was so novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. I didn’t come across that one, although I did notice that there is a type of purse known as a “crapaud”. Anything squat or toad-shaped is clearly a candidate for the name.

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  5. Please do not injure or kill spiders, or destroy their homes. They are beautiful and interesting, and they are the gardener’s friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can assure you that I didn’t kill any in the process, at least not knowingly. But we really couldn’t keep being festooned with cobwebs every time we went into the cave, so I gently removed the webs that hung down below head level with a broom. I am quite sure they will be back.

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