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Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

A leg above the rest

By Shelley Grieshop

Ian Spencer, 11, holds a five-legged toad he found in his family's barn on Sunda. . .

Ian Spencer was hopping with excitement Sunday morning when he spotted a small, lanky toad on top of a crate in his family's barn.
An animal lover (that's what you call an 11-year-old boy who sleeps next to a 38-inch long iguana), he immediately noticed something odd about the brown-skinned amphibian - its fifth leg.
"I was amazed," says the Celina Middle School seventh-grader, who affectionately named the warty-looking character "Quint."
Ian's freckles glisten in the sun as he stands in his rural Celina backyard holding the small toad between his thumb and forefinger. The abnormal appendage - attached to the toad's right front leg - swings wildly in the air like a boxer's arm about to land a right hook.
"I'll probably keep him," he says, getting an affirmative nod from his father, Mike Spencer.
Five-legged toads are rare despite the fact that millions of toads are born each year, according to biologist Mark Witt of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"It's something I've heard about, but it's not real common to have such a malformation," he says.
If numerous mutated species are found in the same area it can be alarming and lead wildlife officers to investigate a possible environmental problem, Witt explains. But an isolated find like Ian's isn't a cause for concern, he says.
Although toads are considered a vulnerable species and rate near the bottom of the food chain, some can live to be about 30 years old, Witt says.
Reptiles and other animals that are either born with mutations or develop them from their environment, typically roam in places where they feel safe from predators, experts say. That could explain why Ian's toad was found on a crate in the barn and not hopping near the family's pond.
Through an e-mailed image, Witt identified Ian's 5-inch long specimen as a Fowlers toad, which are commonly found in northwest Ohio.
Ian gets his love of wildlife from his father, who is pastor of Grace Missionary Church in Celina. Mike Spencer says he's always been crazy about the outdoors and enjoys hunting and fishing every chance he gets.
Ian's bedroom looks like a backdrop for an episode of Animal Kingdom. Near the caged iguana is an aquarium full of minnows. Quint appears right at home in his own cage - a temporary shelter just inches from Ian's twin bed - where he snacks on juicy, wax worms.
Over the years, Ian has cared for a wayward snapping turtle, snakes, baby raccoons, geese, a baby salamander, a possum, dogs, cats and even a crow. He currently gives boarding rights to three laying hens in exchange for their "end" products, which he sells for $1.25 per dozen.
With quick wit and such a love for the wild, Ian could easily become a biologist or a veterinarian when he grows up. But those occupations don't interest him much, he said.
"I want to be a hockey player," he said with a grin.
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