Pre-hibernation fat reserves padding the toad's body were likely helping to keep the creature alive, Caruso added.
But the hapless toad's chances of surviving in this condition were "really poor," and it likely wouldn't have lasted for very long after running into the researchers, Fleming told Live Science. Plus, it kept bumping into us, so if we were its natural predators, it would have been eaten very quickly," she said.
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One possible culprit could have been infestation by flesh-eating toad fly larvae (), which consume toads' soft tissues and weaken their fragile bones, wildlife veterinarian Lydia Franklinos suggested in a tweet.
Toads can become infested with these parasites when an adult fly lays its eggs in their nostrils or eyes, and things go downhill for the toad very rapidly after that, Franklinos told Live Science in an email.
Another likely explanation is that while the toad was inactive during brumation, a predator discovered it and gnawed its face off, Fleming said.
"The brain stem governs many of the central and necessary parts of the rest of our bodies, like heart rate, digestion and other functions.
So, theoretically, the body can survive with only that part of the brain, even though the parts of the brain associated with consciousness, memory and decision-making are gone," Taylor said.
Instead of a face, it had only a stump covered by smooth tissue and a small opening where its mouth used to be, according to herpetologist Jill Fleming, who discovered the toad. Fleming spotted the unfortunate creature — an American toad () — in April 2016 in a state forest in Connecticut, where she was conducting research on Eastern red-spotted newts, she told Live Science in an email. In the tweet, she invited her fellow herpetologists, or "herp Twitter," to consider what might have caused the animal's highly unusual condition.
[In Photos: The World's Freakiest Looking Animals] "We sat down on a log to process the samples, and the toad kept running into our feet. Video of the toad showed it tentatively stepping over the forest floor, and there was no sign of a wound where its face presumably once was.