Scientific Name: Order Anura
Description: Like frogs, toads are amphibians. They differ from most frogs in that they have dry skin, warts, crests behind the eyes, and parotoid glands. The parotoid glands produce a poisonous secretion that helps to defend the toad from predators. This substance, which is called bufotoxin, can cause death in small animals and allergic reactions in humans. They have other ways to avoid being eaten too—if they’re brown or green in color, they can blend into their surroundings, and brightly colored toads let predators know that they’re poisonous! Toads also puff up their bodies in an attempt to look bigger and inedible if a predator is nearby.
Size: The smallest North American toad is the oak toad (Bufo quercicus), which reaches a length of only 1.3 inches. Cane toads are the largest toads and grow up to nine inches in length. A massive cane toad caught in Australia has been described as the size of a small dog!
Diet: Like frogs, most toads eat insects and other arthropods. However, some species eat reptiles, small mammals, and even other amphibians.
Typical Lifespan: The common toad (Bufo bufo) lives up to 40 years, but most toad species live approximately five to ten years.
Habitat: Adults generally prefer moist, open habitats like grasslands and fields. The American toad is a common garden species that eats harmful insects and can be seen in backyards in the northeast.
Range: Many different species of toads live throughout the United States. Toads are also found on every other continent excluding Antarctica.
Life History and Reproduction: Each species of toad has a unique call—males use their call to attract females to mate with or to keep other males away from their territory. After toad eggs are fertilized, most hatch into tadpoles before becoming full grown adult toads. Tadpoles have tails for swimming instead of legs, and gills to breathe underwater. As time passes, the tail becomes smaller and smaller until it eventually disappears. At the same time, the tadpole grows legs and loses its gills. Once this metamorphosis stage is complete, the adult frog is ready to live a terrestrial lifestyle! Not all toads (or frogs) have a tadpole stage. However, all amphibians require an unpolluted source of water to reproduce.
Touching a toad will not give you warts! However, the bufotoxin found on their skin can cause irritation, so you should avoid touching toads.
Conservation Status: Over a half dozen toad species are Federally listed as Endangered. The biggest threats to toads are habitat degradation and invasive species.